With eyes on Russia, senators seek to prevent any U.S. president from leaving NATO

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., attends a hearing to examine United States Special Operations Command and United States Cyber Command in review of the Defense Authorization Request for fiscal year 2022 and the Future Years Defense Program, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, U.S., March 25, 2021 . Anna Moneymaker/Pool via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Fifteen Democratic and Republican U.S. senators introduced a bill on Thursday that would bar any U.S. president from withdrawing from the NATO military alliance without Senate approval.

The bill, seen by Reuters, is a new version of a similar measure that passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December 2019, but was never considered by the full Senate, then controlled by Republicans.

If a president attempts to leave NATO without Senate approval, the bill would prohibit funding for such a move and authorizes the Congressional Legal Counsel to challenge the administration in court.

"This bill expresses clear congressional support for the continuing value of NATO and clarifies that no President acting alone can sever the bonds of the alliance," Senator Tim Kaine, one of the measure's lead sponsors, said in a statement.

Former Republican President Donald Trump was a critic of NATO, criticizing allies for failing to pay their fair share, calling it outdated and once suggesting that Washington could withdraw.

NATO has been in the spotlight this month as Russia has built up troops near Ukraine and Crimea, the peninsula Moscow annexed in 2014. NATO foreign and defense ministers held emergency discussions this week on the massing of Russian troops.

"With Moscow’s growing subversive aggressions, we must ensure no U.S. President withdraws from NATO without the advice and consent of the Senate," Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the bill's other lead sponsor, said in a statement.

Kaine and Rubio both sit on the foreign relations committee.

The bill's other sponsors include three Republicans, nine Democrats and one independent, Senator Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats.

The bill's sponsors are optimistic about its chances of passing and becoming law, given President Joe Biden's recent expressions of strong support for the alliance. Biden's fellow Democrats narrowly control both the Senate and House of Representatives.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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