McCain, Graham say they will seek 'stronger sanctions' on Russia

Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two hawks on U.S. policy toward Russia, said they will lead the push in the upcoming Congress for sanctions on Moscow that are stronger than those the Obama administration announced Thursday.

"The retaliatory measures announced by the Obama administration today are long overdue. But ultimately, they are a small price for Russia to pay for its brazen attack on American democracy. We intend to lead the effort in the new Congress to impose stronger sanctions on Russia," the senators said in a joint statement Thursday.

The Obama administration issued an executive order Thursday authorizing sanctions on individuals and organizations it believes were involved in alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. The White House sanctioned nine entities and individuals: two Russian intelligence agencies, four officers of its largest intelligence agency, GRU, and three companies that supported GRU's operations. It also expelled 35 Russian diplomats and closed two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland in response to what it said was harassment of American diplomats in Moscow.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called Obama's sanctions counterproductive and said they will harm the restoration of bilateral ties, according to Reuters.

The measures will test President-elect Donald Trump, who has brushed off the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that Russia interfered in the election, calling it an effort to delegitimize his electoral victory. He has been criticized by both major American parties for appearing too warm to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It remains to be seen whether his administration will reverse the action or other existing sanctions on Russia, or if it will pursue new measures. Trump's transition team did not immediately respond to a request to comment on whether it will uphold the executive action. When he was asked about possible sanctions Wednesday, he said, "I think we ought to get on with our lives."

However, some congressional Republicans including McCain and Graham have signaled that they could break with Trump if he chooses not to seek tougher sanctions on Russia. GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called the actions "a good initial step" and while he did not outright say he sought tougher sanctions, he appeared to leave the door open for them.

"As the next Congress reviews Russian actions against networks associated with the U.S. election, we must also work to ensure that any attack against the United States is met with an overwhelming response," McConnell said in a statement.

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said the sanctions were "overdue," he did not indicate in a statement if he would seek further action against Russia.