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Senate nears bipartisan — and filibuster-proof — deal to slap at Putin

A landmark Senate bill to bolster President Joe Biden’s hand in the standoff with Russia is taking shape, with members of both parties finessing language to overcome the threat of a Republican filibuster.

Text of the legislation is not yet final, and it’s unclear whether the White House will ultimately support the compromise effort. But if the group of four Democrats and four Republicans spearheading the effort can strike a deal, it would mark a significant breakthrough at a time when Biden administration officials are warning that a Russian invasion of Ukraine might be imminent.

It would also come after weeks of partisan jabs over the best way to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has amassed 120,000 troops surrounding Ukraine.

According to four people involved in the negotiations, several bipartisan provisions are in play for the compromise legislation, including a sanctions regime that outlines mandatory sectoral penalties in the event of an invasion, in addition to more immediate sanctions. Senators are also looking to bolster Washington’s already-robust security assistance to Ukraine and provide additional aid in combatting Russian cyberattacks and propaganda campaigns.

Perhaps most significantly, the compromise effort could include a bipartisan lend-lease bill authored by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and four other senators from both parties. The measure would give Biden the authority to provide Ukraine with military equipment at no cost, though with the promise of repayment later. The U.S. undertook a similar effort during World War II when it sent weapons, food and energy to the U.K. and other nations.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) are also working on legislative language regarding the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline that can attract bipartisan support, people familiar with the effort told POLITICO. The nearly completed Russia-to-Germany pipeline has been, and remains, one of the most contentious policy issues of the Biden administration, with Republicans and some Democrats criticizing the president for waiving sanctions earlier this year.

It’s unclear whether Republicans will be satisfied with the new language. Nearly all GOP senators voted in December to impose immediate sanctions on Nord Stream 2, an effort opposed by the Biden administration and a majority of Democrats who believed that stopping the pipeline project now would lessen U.S. leverage in talks with Moscow.

Senators are using Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez’s (D-N.J.) “mother of all sanctions” legislation as a starting point for the talks. The bill authorizes unprecedented sanctions on Russia’s financial institutions and other key entities, but would only kick in after a Russian invasion of Ukraine. The majority of the Senate Democratic Caucus has co-sponsored that bill.

Republicans have pushed for a different approach — one that involves sanctioning Russia before it launches an invasion, and ramping up those penalties if necessary. The compromise bill would still resemble Menendez’s original legislation, but with GOP demands incorporated throughout.

“The goal is to get to yes ASAP and convince them to lock arms now so we can move this on an expedited track when the Senate reconvenes,” a Senate aide familiar with the ongoing talks told POLITICO.

The Senate is on recess this week, and the bipartisan group is aiming to seek expedited passage of their legislation as soon as early next week, when lawmakers return to Washington.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) endorsed the initial Menendez bill, but it’s unclear if he would move to vote on the compromise package. A representative for Schumer said the majority leader supports the Menendez-led efforts and is awaiting finalized legislation.

Even if the legislation clears the 60-vote threshold, Republicans could still slow the process. Absent an agreement by all 100 senators, Schumer would have to burn through multiple days on the Senate floor.

The White House did not return a request for comment about whether the president plans to support the compromise legislation.

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