US says Russia rejected a deal to free Evan Gershkovich, Paul Whelan

The U.S. on Tuesday said Russia rejected a “significant proposal” that would have freed two detained Americans, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and former Marine Paul Whelan.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in recent weeks the U.S. “made a new and significant proposal to secure Paul and Evan’s release.”

“That proposal was rejected by Russia,” Miller said at a press briefing. “This was not a case of them not having responded to us. They rejected the offer that was on the table.”

Miller declined to speak on the details of the proposal, but added that Moscow’s refusal “will not deter us from continuing to do everything we can to try and bring both of them home.”

He added the State Department has “pressed the importance of this case through a number of channels” and “made a number of proposals” to bring the detained Americans home, all to no avail.

Whelan was arrested by Russian authorities in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison, accused of espionage. The U.S. considers him wrongfully detained.

The former U.S. Marine is being held in a Russian prison labor camp, where he was attacked by another inmate last week.

Gershkovich was arrested in March, also accused of espionage, and recently passed 250 days in pre-trial detention on Monday. The U.S. also considers Gershkovich wrongfully detained.

He was the first American journalist to be detained in Russia since the Cold War, and arrest came as U.S.-Russia tensions have skyrocketed amid the war in Ukraine.

In October, Russia arrested Radio Free Europe/Radio Free Liberty editor Alsu Kurmasheva, who is Russian-American. Kurmasheva was detained for failing to register as a foreign agent.

The U.S. has yet to label her wrongfully detained but is continuing to look at her case, according to the State Department.

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Senate clears hundreds of military nominations hours after Tuberville lifts hold

The Senate on Tuesday advanced a backlog of military nominations only hours after Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) released his nearly 10-month hold on them, in protest of the Pentagon’s abortion policy. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) moved on more than 400 nominations en bloc via unanimous consent, finally allowing servicemembers to take on their new roles after hanging in limbo for much of the year. 

“Hundreds of military families across the country can breathe a sigh of relief,” Schumer said after the confirmations were complete. “Thank god. These military officers will now get the promotions they so rightfully earned.” 

“I’m happy that after so much unnecessary delay by one senator, we have finally moved forward,” Schumer said.

The deal struck by Tuberville with Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) allowed all promotions for officers at the three-star level to be confirmed en bloc. The hold remains in place on those at the four-star level, which applies to nearly a dozen officers. 

Tuberville was under pressure from the pair to relent on his holds, as they went public with their complaints over the past month on the Senate floor in an attempt to advance nominees one at a time. The Alabama senator rejected them.

He was also feeling the heat as a standing resolution was teed up by Senate Democrats that would have effectively changed the chamber’s rules temporarily to allow the Senate to confirm the nominees en masse. 

Senate Republicans lined up against wanting to take the tough vote, which would have forced them to take a side on possible changing the rules and politically on abortion access versus military matters. 

“There’s no reason. We’re not the House,” Tuberville told reporters earlier in the day. “We keep the rules the way they are.”

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