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Kay Bailey Hutchison Vows Toughness On Russia As NATO Ambassador

Former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson speaks at the Texas Tribune Festival in 2014.
Bob Daemmrich
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Former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson speaks at the Texas Tribune Festival in 2014.

WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Sen.  Kay Bailey Hutchison testified on Thursday that she would take a tough stance on Russia if she is confirmed as the new ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. 

"We are beefing up defenses for an aggressive Russia," she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, adding that she supports lawmakers considering new sanctions on Russian in response to its cyberattacks at home and abroad. "I think that Congress is doing the right thing." 

Hutchison's comments were striking given that the man who nominated her to the NATO post — President Donald Trump — continues to cultivate an oddly close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Several senators, including Democrats, said Thursday they found Hutchison's positions reassuring, and they were anything but adversarial in their questioning of her. 

"Kay Bailey, I'm so excited you're the nominee," said U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat and 2016 Democratic nominee for vice president. "Your nomination sends a signal the NATO relationship is an important one." 

The Senate has passed Russian sanctions in a near-unanimous vote, but the legislation is stalled in the House amid procedural and partisan infighting. Most members of Congress believe Trump is against new sanctions, setting the stage for a potential veto or veto override in the coming months. 

In her testimony, Hutchison called it likely that Russia interfered in the 2016 American elections, a conclusion Trump and many Republicans have yet to fully accept despite a consensus among the country's intelligence agencies. 

Hutchison was one of several ambassador nominees who participated in Thursday's panel. Texas' two senators,  John Cornyn and  Ted Cruz, introduced Hutchison to the committee with high praise. 

“She was relentless; she would not stop until she achieved her objective," Cornyn said of his time serving with her in the Senate. “And most importantly, she always did what she thought was the right thing for Texas. Whether it was working with Republicans or Democrats, that was always her guiding star.” 

“As I think about the type of individual best-suited to represent the U.S. on the world stage, I can think of no one better than Kay," he added. 

Cruz, who succeeded Hutchison in the Senate, joked to his colleagues that they preferred her to him. 

"You know I agree with the president’s effort to extract more from our allies in support of NATO. I think that’s a positive direction for our country," he said. "But I think it is also very good to have a U.S. ambassador who has a strong will and a gracious smile to represent America." 

Hutchison is expected to coast to confirmation. 

Disclosure: The author of this article briefly worked for Kay Bailey Hutchison more than a decade ago.

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From The Texas Tribune

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Abby Livingston joined the Tribune in 2014 as the publication's first Washington Bureau Chief. Previously, she covered political campaigns, House leadership and Congress for Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper. A seventh-generation Texan, Abby graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. She grew up in Fort Worth and has appeared in an episode of "The Bold and The Beautiful." Abby pitched and produced political segments for CNN and worked as an editor for The Hotline, National Journal’s campaign tipsheet. Abby began her journalism career as a desk assistant at NBC News in Washington, working her way up to the political unit, where she researched stories for Nightly News, the Today Show and Meet the Press. In keeping with the Trib’s great history of hiring softball stars, Abby is a three-time MVP (the most in game history —Ed.) for The Bad News Babes, the women’s press softball team that takes on female members of Congress in the annual Congressional Women’s Softball breast cancer charity game.