Sen. Mitt Romney plunged headlong into four fiery issues Tuesday — impeachment, blasting Russia’s arrest of an opposition leader, denouncing ongoing Chinese aggression and decrying what he says is weak U.S. defense against cyber attacks.
That came as he questioned President-elect Joe Biden’s nominees for secretary of state and homeland security, in tweets and in interviews with reporters in what was a full day for the Utah senator.
As he walked into a confirmation hearing on Biden’s nominee for Homeland Security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, reporters asked him if the Senate could proceed with an impeachment trial on President Donald Trump without stalling confirmation of incoming Biden administration nominees.
Romney said the Senate can do both.
“We can do both as quickly as possible and provide the justice that would be anticipated in an impeachment trial, at the same time carry out the responsibilities we have to get a Cabinet confirmed,” he said.
Romney also said proceeding with impeachment would not unnecessarily divide the country more and could put to rest debates about Trump’s actions and claims.
“When people are saying, ‘Oh, we need to have unity,’” he said, “they don’t realize that the lie is causing disunity. That obviously is a real problem.”
Earlier, Romney called for sanctions to punish Russia for the arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, after he returned to the country on Sunday. Navalny returned from Germany after treatment for poisoning by nerve agent, which he blames on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The corruption and lawlessness of the Putin regime continues to be on full display for the world to see,” Romney tweeted. “The detention of Navalny is yet another shameless attempt by Putin to silence the Russian people’s fight for freedom and democracy. The U.S must hold him accountable.”
So Romney called for sanctions.
“The Senate should begin by passing our legislation to impose sanctions on Putin and the Russian officials complicit in the brazen poisoning of Alexei Navalny.”
His tweet linked to legislation he co-sponsored last year with four other senators that would sanction Kremlin officials allegedly involved in Navalny’s poisoning with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.
When Navalny was released from the hospital in Germany last year, Russia’s prison agency informed him that he would be in violation of the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence unless he returned to Moscow immediately.
Officials told Navalny that if he returned to Russia any later, he would be subject to arrest. Navalny has said the 2014 embezzlement conviction was politically motivated. Officials took him into custody in Moscow as he landed there on Sunday.
A judge on Monday ordered Navalny to be jailed for 30 days, ahead of a decision that could put him behind bars for years. Moment later, Navalny called for protests in a video message to his supporters. “Do not be afraid,” Navalny said in the video. “Take to the streets. Don’t do it for me, do it for yourselves and for your future.”
Also, Romney called on Mayorkas during his confirmation hearing to become secretary of Homeland Defense to make cybersecurity a higher priority. That comes after some of America’s most deeply held secrets may have been stolen in a disciplined, monthslong operation that has been blamed on elite Russian government hackers.
“We are woefully unprepared from a cyber security standpoint in this nation and in our government,” Romney said.
He urged Mayorkas “to focus on bringing a whole different level of expertise” to cybersecurity to “protect our government and our economy from those who would who would attack us in this new most powerful way.”
Mayorkas responded, “I can assure you that the cybersecurity of our nation will be one of my highest priorities, because I concur with you that the threat is real and the threat is every day. And we have to do a much better job than we are doing now.”
In a confirmation hearing Tuesday afternoon on Antony Blinken to become secretary of state, Romney pushed him to confront what he sees as growing threats from China.
“My own view is that their ambition is to become the geopolitical leader of the world, as well as the economic leader of the world, the military leader of the world, and ultimately to impose their their authoritarian views in such a way that would put at great risk the freedom and liberty of people here and around the world,” Romney said.
Blinken largely agreed.
“China had a policy for four decades of, as they described it, hiding their hand and biding their time,” he said. But now, “The hiding and biding has gone away and they are much more assertive in making clear that they seek to become, in effect, the leading country in the world, the country that sets the norms, that sets the standards, and to put forward a model that they hope other countries and people will ascribe to.”
Blinken said it is important for the United States to stand up to China and give the world an alternative to its authoritarian ways.
“There is no doubt that I think China would like to recapture its extraordinary past, but to do so in a way that is potentially and practically ... inimical [obstructive] to our our own values and our own interests,” he said.
Romney also later tweeted thanks to the Trump administration state department for determining that China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority is a “genocide.”
“I commend the Administration for following our calls to declare the CCP’s mass internment, forced labor, and sterilization of Uyghurs as ‘genocide.’ The U.S. is the first country to do so, but it cannot be the last. The world must recognize these atrocities for what they are,” Romney tweeted.