There aren’t many Republicans more conservative than Steve Daines, which is why it stuck out this week when the Montana senator sided with Democrats to oppose Trump Administration plans to lift sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Daines, 10 other Republicans, and Senate Democrats tried to block the lifting of sanctions on three companies controlled by Oleg Deripaska, who the Treasury Department described as a Kremlin insider, even as the department asked Congress to allow the sanctions to be lifted. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had argued that lifting the sanctions was reasonable because Deripaska has reduced his ownership stake in the metals companies targeted, the Associated Press reported.
“This resolution helps keep pressure on the Kremlin for their aggressive actions toward Eastern Europe, the Middle East and around the world,” Daines said of the pro-sanctions measure before it was turned back by Republicans.
Democrats and the 11 Republicans were three votes shy of the 60 necessary to keeping the sanctions in place. Montana’s Democratic Sen. Jon Tester also voted to keep the sanctions. After two rounds of voting, with Daines siding with Democrats on both rounds, the Treasury got what it wanted. Thursday, House Democrats voted in favor of keeping the sanctions with 135 Republicans, including Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte, voting to do the same.
It was the majority of Republican senators who flipped on the sanctions, which the GOP strongly supported over Trump’s objections in 2017. Daines votes in line with Trump’s position 86.9 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight, a statistical blog. The congressional vote tracking website GovTrack.us, lists only 11 senators more conservative than Daines.
Daines had taken some heat on social media in July after traveling to Russia with seven other Republicans to meet with Russian officials ahead of a visit between President Trump and Putin. A member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee, Daines said at the time he wanted to assess Russian threats to U.S. national security.
Democrats called the trip an outrage and suggested that Daines was spending Independence Day on Russian soil. When the senator posted photos of himself celebrating the Fourth of July with fireworks in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Democrats accused him of posting fake photos.
Daines had flown back to the United States early and was in D.C. on Independence Day so he could fly with President Trump on Air Force One to Great Falls for a campaign rally July 5.
Three of the Republicans who made the July trip to Russia were among the 11 GOP senators who voted with Democrats this week to keep the Russian sanctions. Six of the 11, including Daines were are up for reelection in 2020.
Daines staff said election politics had nothing to do with voting against the Trump administration’s plans to lift the sanctions.
“Senator Daines is going to vote on what he believes is right and will always put what’s best for Montana and the nation before party politics,” said Katie Schoettler, Daines spokesperson. “Daines is a strong supporter of holding Russia accountable.”