Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has his hands full running interference for President-elect Donald Trump. He insists an investigation of Russian hacking can be done by House and Senate intelligence committees, despite a bipartisan drumbeat for a select committee. He also vouches for secretary of state nominee Rex W. Tillerson. “My prediction is that Vladimir Putin will be very disappointed with the Rex Tillerson he gets as secretary of state,” he claimed. We would like to know the basis for his belief and to share his confidence that Tillerson will not be a sympathetic transactional partner for Putin, willing to countenance human rights abuses and international aggression for the sake of “getting along.”
Senators, however, will not take McConnell’s word for it. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee should be prepare to unleash precise and dogged questioning. We offer these to get them started:
In 2012, a Freedom House report found:
The Putin regime demonizes the United States, heaps abuse on its officials, derides its democratic values, and treats the humanitarian motives of its people as somehow suspect—and the White House says virtually nothing in response. The Obama administration meekly accepted Putin’s decision to expel USAID without ever pushing back or thinking through the precedent such a move would create. The very fact that it was the U.S. State Department that announced Russia’s decision to end USAID’s 20-year presence sent the wrong message. It should have been no surprise when Putin quickly followed up by ejecting the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), ending the Nunn-Lugar nuclear nonproliferation program with the United States, and banning American adoptions of Russian children. At the end of January, Russia ended a bilateral counternarcotics agreement. Absent any pushback from Washington or indications that such steps would damage the relationship, Putin feels free to ratchet up his authoritarian, xenophobic campaign. Democratic forces expect and look to the American president to stand with them, and to stand up to Putin.
Do you agree with that assessment, and what should the United States have been doing since then?
Should we have provided defensive weapons to Ukraine when Russian-backed forces violated its sovereignty?
Has Russia perpetrated war crimes in Syria? What should we do about it?
At the time debate was underway on whether to use force to back the president’s red line in Syria, many on the right and left said we had no national interests in Syria. Was that wrong? Do we have interests now?
How would you change our one-China policy, if at all? How would you respond to China’s suspected installation of weapons on artificial islands it created in the South China Sea?
Who pays the cost of tariffs?
Who benefits if the Trans-Pacific Partnership falls apart?
What, if anything, should we do in lieu of the TPP?
How should we respond to internal repression and mass violation of human rights in Turkey and Egypt?
Do you agree with the notion that Sunni states should learn to “share” the region with Iran? How do you propose to stop Iranian aggression in the Middle East?
If we impose sanctions on non-nuclear Iranian misconduct and Iran backs out of the JCPOA, what then? What would you do if European allies and Russia continue doing business in Iran, for example, with entities controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps?
Once the Islamic State is defeated in Iraq, how do you propose to keep it from becoming a client state of Iran?
President-elect Trump says NATO is “obsolete.” Do you agree?
What criteria would you use for placing individuals on the worldwide Magnitsky list? Should Raúl Castro be on it? Bashar al-Assad and his closest advisers?