Journalist’s Notebook: Russia’s War in Ukraine and Congress’s Long Request for Help

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It was late January. Russian leader Vladimir Putin was waving sabers over the invasion of Ukraine. The Senate called top Biden administration officials to brief them on what to expect from the Kremlin.

The Senate quickly prepared to hit Moscow with what senators described as the “mother of all sanctions” bill. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, DN.J., said the sanctions bill was on “the one-yard line.” After leaving a classified briefing on Ukraine, Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., said the meeting appeared to strengthen the senators’ resolve to sanction Russia.

Unlike American football, the US Senate operates on more than four downs – given that the legislation was allegedly so close to the goal line. Top senators kept saying the bill was getting closer. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., even pointed to the harsh penalties bill as a way to deter Putin from invading Ukraine. Thus, it was important to pass the bill before an invasion.

It never happened.

President Joe Biden speaks about his administration’s plans to combat rising gas prices in the South Court Auditorium on the campus of the White House, Thursday, March 31, 2022, in Washington. BUCHA, UKRAINE – APRIL 04: A photo shows massive destruction in the conflict zone of the town of Bucha after its liberation from the Russian army in Ukraine on April 4, 2022.
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky | Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images | Getty)


Yes. Congress has provided Ukraine with all kinds of aid and weapons. Lawmakers funneled nearly $14 billion in aid to Ukraine into a gigantic omnibus spending bill to avoid a US government shutdown. But Congress has yet to send President Biden’s office a single bill that deals only with Ukraine.

That’s why he falls far short of everything Ukrainian leader Volodomyr Zelensky asked for. Zelenskyy continued to push for a transfer of MiGs from Poland and the declaration of a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

Lawmakers on both sides bragged about what Congress sent to Ukraine. Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for what the right says has been a slow response to the crisis. But Ukraine has received far from everything on its wish list. Lawmakers are careful to note that NATO’s enforcement of a no-fly zone could inject the West directly into the conflict – something the United States wants to avoid.

“We respond to almost every request that Ukrainians have made of us,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. “This city is so obsessed with the incredibly narrow band of equipment that we don’t think we have the capacity to transfer. So I think we should be really proud of the quite extraordinary rate of transfers to the Ukrainians.”

In late March, the House overwhelmingly approved a bill asking the United States to revoke normal trade relations with Russia. The House approved plan 424-8. At first glance, one would have thought that this bill would paralyze the Senate.

But again, you’re dealing with the US Senate.

At first, there was an issue over Russian oil raised by Sen. Michael Crapo, R-Idaho. But once that was resolved, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., blocked expedited consideration of the measure.

“Someone should read the bills,” Paul said on the floor.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York speaks during a press conference on the PACT Act to Benefit Burn Pit Victims on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in Washington .  (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York speaks during a press conference on the PACT Act to Benefit Burn Pit Victims on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in Washington . (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)


The Kentucky Republican also crippled the measure over concerns it would be too punitive in efforts to punish perpetrators of human rights abuses.

And so, the Senate burned over two weeks without moving this bill forward.

Schumer dodged a question about why he didn’t implement some House measures that would force a vote in the Senate last week. Yes, the process would have cost the Senate several days – even though all the senators seemed to be in favor of severing normal trade relations with Russia and Paul was the only obstacle. But the Senate would have scored an end result to help Ukraine and slap Russia.

That said, Schumer may have been hesitant to tie up Senate time in the face of the pending confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. The Senate aims to confirm Jackson by the end of the week. Democrats are very reluctant to do anything that might delay or jeopardize Jackson’s confirmation — especially in a 50/50 Senate.

Few people would say that. But as much as senators from both parties want to penalize Russia, the Democrats are slightly more concerned about Jackson’s High Court confirmation.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center, walks before a meeting with European Parliament President Roberta Metsola in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, April 1, 2022.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center, walks before a meeting with European Parliament President Roberta Metsola in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, April 1, 2022.
(Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)


Especially after Republicans didn’t grant Attorney General Merrick Garland a hearing when President Obama nominated him to the Supreme Court in 2016 — and Republicans then upheld Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation days later. before the 2020 elections.

“Confirming Judge Jackson remains by far the Senate’s highest priority this week,” Schumer said.

Trade with Russia — and how the United States should now approach trade with China amid the war in Ukraine — took center stage during a recent Senate Finance Committee hearing. with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai.

“We’re only halfway there,” Tai said when asked about the Senate’s inaction on severing normalized trade relations with Russia. “We need to complete the act. It was so important for the United States government to speak with one voice.”

Of course, that’s always the challenge on Capitol Hill: getting a bicameral legislature to speak with one voice.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., moved on to another bill with the stalled Russian trade bill.

“If American companies do business in Russia and pay taxes to the Russian government, we need to remove foreign tax credits,” Wyden said. “There’s no reason for the people of Oregon and Ohio to subsidize Putin’s war machine. So we have to do this (trade bill).”

President Biden himself imposed sanctions on Russia. But Sen. Maggie Hassan, DN.H., expressed concern that Moscow could shirk the consequences.

“How can you continue to pressure Putin for these unprovoked attacks? Hassan asked Tai.

“The most direct tool we have in the trade toolbox is how we deal with Russia at the WTO (World Trade Organization),” Tai replied.


Congress is now trying to quickly pass a bill to prepare the country for the next wave of the pandemic. The bill runs out of money to fund overseas COVID measures — much to the dismay of many lawmakers. It is believed that Congress may have to work on an international coronavirus bill in the coming months. The international aid part is unpopular with some Republicans. The working theory on Capitol Hill is that lawmakers could pump additional money into this measure in the coming months to make the legislation more palatable.

There is now a bipartisan push on Capitol Hill by lawmakers to condemn Russian butchery in Bucha.

“I think this should be a turning point for the world,” Graham said. “We should follow him to the ends of the Earth to pursue him. But this should be a turning point in the war.”

But based on his record on Ukraine, it’s unclear whether the Bucha tragedy is a turning point for Congress.


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