By Byron Tau

WASHINGTON -- Two leading Senate Republicans said Sunday they will introduce a bipartisan bill to impose additional sanctions on Russia over hacking the U.S. election, a move that threatens to deepen the divide between Capitol Hill and president-elect Donald Trump over U.S. relations with the Kremlin.

Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona said the bill would give the incoming administration additional tools to sanction Russia in light of the intelligence community's assessment that President Vladimir Putin orchestrated a campaign to undermine and interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election

"We'regoing to introduce sanctions that are bipartisan, that go beyond the sanctions we have today against Russia, that will hit them in the financial sector and the energy sector where they're the weakest," said Mr. Graham.

But rather than impose further sanctions, Mr. Trump has proposed improving relations with Russia after years of disagreements between the U.S. and the Kremlin over Russian military actions in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere.

Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter this week: "Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only 'stupid' people, or fools, would think that it is bad!"

"We have enough problems around the world without yet another one. When I am President, Russia will respect us far more than they do now and both countries will, perhaps, work together to solve some of the many great and pressing problems," the president-elect added.

Mr. Graham's efforts are a sign that the new administration's proposed rapprochement with Russia is being met with continued resistance on Capitol Hill, where many congressional Republicans have long advocated for a tougher posture against Russia. The widening rift also could be on display this week as the Senate begins the confirmation process for Mr. Trump's nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

If the bill passes both chambers, the new president would be under new pressure in deciding whether to sign it, especially if it had broad bipartisan support. Mr. Graham said it would give Mr. Trump "an opportunity to make Russia pay a price for interfering in our election so it will deter others in the future. I hope he will take advantage of it."

The threat of new sanctions followed an intelligence community report that found Mr. Putin ordered a propaganda and hacking campaign aimed at undermining faith in the U.S. election process and boosting Mr. Trump's chances. Mr. Trump has pushed back against the notion that Russia may have helped him win the presidential election.

"He wouldn't be the first president to want to be buddies with President Putin," Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican, told Fox News on Sunday. Mr. Nunes, who serves as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and is helping Mr. Trump's transition team, noted that President Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton also unsuccessfully pursued rapprochements with Russia.

Mr. Tillerson has drawn concerns over his personal relationship with top Russian government officials -- further underscoring Capitol Hill's concerns about Mr. Trump's proposed new direction on Russia. Mr. Tillerson developed those relationships while serving as CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp.

Messrs. Graham and McCain, as well as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida have all expressed concern about Mr. Tillerson's Russia ties. His nomination can lose no more than two Republican votes if the Democratic caucus unites against him. The Senate this year has 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats.

Mr. McCain, asked about confirming Mr. Tillerson, said: "Every president should have the benefit of the doubt as to their nominees. So there has to be a compelling reason not to. I still have some concerns and I have got some more questions for Mr. Tillerson."

Write to Byron Tau at byron.tau@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 08, 2017 12:05 ET (17:05 GMT)

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