Putin has a knack for bringing together U.S. politicians

Administration’s response to Russia draws bipartisan frustration


On Capitol Hill, Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, articulated the administration’s ­go-slow approach to sanctions on Russia. It did not go over well. (Win Mcnamee/Getty Images)

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, of “F--- the E.U.” fame, received an earful from the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee over the Obama administration’s lack of action against Russia.

With the European Union pondering sanctions next week, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) asked Nuland at a hearing Wednesday what will happen if the E.U. doesn’t come to a conclusion.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

“Then will we have the summer lapse and Putin will know that there’s no consequences and the United States will stay on the sidelines, waiting for the Europeans? Is that something that we could actually expect?” he asked. He twice asked, “What are we waiting for?”

Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the ranking Republican on the committee, was even harsher.

“I have to say, sometimes I’m embarrassed for you as you constantly talk about sanctions and yet, candidly, we never see them put in place,” Corker said. He also called the White House’s policy “feckless” and suggested that Foreign Service officers must “feel like resigning, when you’re put out there to continue to sort of sound tough but know that nothing’s really going to happen.”

Nuland said the administration prefers to move forward on a next round of sanctions in coordination with the Europeans. The U.S. imposed some sanctions earlier this year on several wealthy Russian businessmen, and Nuland said it is prepared to do more “very soon if Russia does not decisively change course.”

It should come as little surprise that being tough on Vladimir Putin would find bipartisan support. Hating on Russia is something most Americans, if not most of the world, can get behind. As tensions mounted in the past year, global disdain for Russia increased exponentially, with unfavorable views jumping from 43 percent to 73 percent among Americans, according to a global public poll conducted from March 17 through early June by the Pew Research Center. That poll also found that opinions about Putin have declined dramatically, with most Americans (80 percent) and Europeans having no confidence in him.

But at least one American isn’t too sour on Russia. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has asked for another year of asylum there — though it’s not as if he has a lot of other attractive options.

Castro? A bipartisan ‘yes.’

Julian Castro, President Obama’s pick to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, sailed through his Senate confirmation Wednesday with a bipartisan vote of 71 to 26.

His twin brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.), and other members of the Texas congressional delegation watched the vote from the gallery.

“I’m proud of Julian and excited for our country,” Rep. Castro said after the vote.

Julian Castro, the Latino mayor of San Antonio, had met with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in his Washington office on Monday to discuss the housing market in Nevada, and Reid announced Tuesday that the Senate would vote to confirm him the next day.

It was not expected to be contentious. And it wasn’t.

Several Republicans offered Castro their blessing from the start, and one member of his home state’s all-GOP Senate delegation, John Cornyn, gave him a warm introduction at the nomination hearing, saying Castro is an “example that the American dream is still very much alive.” Cornyn voted yes, while Texas’s other senator, Ted Cruz, voted no.

Castro cleared a committee vote last month 16 to 6, with support from 12 Democrats and four Republicans.

He is also being buzzed about as a potential 2016 vice-presidential pick, and some see his appointment as a way to get him acclimated to Washington and raise his national profile. Castro, 39, was first introduced to a national audience when he gave the keynote speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Dinero, yes. Mucho, no.

The president nominated another bundler Wednesday for an excellent ambassadorship, one in beautiful Costa Rica, land of wonderful beaches, volcanoes, tropical forests, zip-lining, exotic fauna and flora, lovely people and no army.

The pick? Stafford Fitzgerald Haney, who’s head of business development and client service at Pzena Investment Management.

Okay, we know what you’re thinking: just another fat cat who gave huge bucks to buy a nice embassy and probably doesn’t speak Spanish and has never been anywhere near Costa Rica.

But it appears you would be wrong. Haney could be described — according to a New York Times tally — not as a mega-bundler but more a mini-bundler, raising only $35,800 in the last campaign (through September 2012) and just under a piddling $200,000 since 2007. (Contrast with Ambassador to Belgium Denise Bauer’s $2.4 million in 2011-2012 and $4.4 million since ’07. Now, that’s mega.) Haney also contributed 50 large for the Obama 2013 inaugural.

It’s pretty safe to assume, from his résumé, that Haney speaks some Spanish, since he worked for much of the ’90s for U.S. companies in Puerto Rico and as a company marketing manager for Mexico and Central America — which may have even taken him to Costa Rica. He also got undergrad and master’s degrees from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service.

Castro? A bipartisan ‘no.’

Sen. Robert Menendez, who believes he may have been framed by the Cuban government, sought help from a fellow Cuban and anti-Fidel member of Congress.

In the basement of the Capitol, Menendez (D-N.J.) passed Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) by the underground subway cars Wednesday afternoon.

“Mario! Get those people off my back,” Menendez called out, referring, of course, to the Cubans.

“I know!” Diaz-Balart said.

The Washington Post reported this week that the CIA had found evidence showing Cuban agents made up stories about Menendez and underage prostitutes to try to hurt him politically.

Menendez and Diaz-Balart are strong critics of Fidel Castro.

Unclear what Menendez thought Diaz-Balart would be able to do.

— With Colby Itkowitz

Twitter: @KamenInTheLoop, @ColbyItkowitz

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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