“It’s so important that we show unity right now [as] President Biden is meeting with our European allies,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) said Wednesday. “Swift action from the Senate, combining Democrats and Republicans with one voice supporting [an end to Russia’s trade preferences] would do just that.
But Sen. Mike Crapo (Idaho), the top Republican on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, opposed Schumer’s request to immediately pass the House bill – citing the other chamber’s decision to drop language on banning Russian energy imports that had previously been included in a handshake agreement between top congressional leaders.
“None of this is controversial, and all of this is necessary,” Crapo said Tuesday, calling the trade and energy bills “additional.”
Trade sanctions and an energy import ban have already been the subject of executive action by Biden. But many members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, have pushed for congressional action to codify Biden’s orders and show bipartisan courtesy in the quest to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for his decision to invade Ukraine.
But the agreement has been difficult to find in recent months. After moments of talks, Democrats and Republicans were unable to come together on a Russia sanctions bill ahead of the late February invasion — a package that some senators said would show Western resolve and could possibly dissuade Putin from continuing his actions.
Since the invasion, lawmakers on both sides have pushed Biden to do more to provide military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and to take a series of escalating measures to punish Russia. A $13.6 billion Ukrainian aid package was included in a sweeping spending bill Biden signed into law earlier this month.
But bills to crack down on Russian trade, ban its energy imports, impose new restrictions on American companies doing business in Russia, require war crimes investigations, transfer MiG planes and other material to Ukraine, and other measures have not yet reached Biden’s office because of political and political struggles.
A deal seemed within reach on Wednesday, however. After Schumer and Crapo argued on the floor, the pair agreed to continue negotiating in hopes of reaching a deal to advance trade and energy bills before the Senate completes its work to Thursday week.
The energy import ban, like the trade bill, enjoyed broad bipartisan support in the House. But some senators, including Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Joe Manchin III (DW-Va.), have raised concerns about the wording of the House bill that would delay the ban for 45 days, potentially giving importers more time to arrange and settle transactions.
Crapo said Wednesday that he would agree to drop the provision to expedite action on the energy ban legislation, which he said would “demonstrate to the people of Ukraine and our NATO allies that the Congress has pledged to cut off funding to Russia for its war effort” and potentially persuade American allies who are more dependent on Russian oil and gas to do the same.
“I’m willing to make those concessions to get this done,” he said. “My opinion is that we have to act quickly.”
But he warned that other senators may have their own demands for additions or subtractions that could hamper a deal. Passing the law this week would require the consent of all 100 senators.
A potential complication is that the House commerce bill includes a permanent extension of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, a law that gives the U.S. government broad power to impose penalties on those who have engaged in human rights violations or serious acts of corruption.
A handful of House conservatives cited the provision — which extends the Magnitsky Act’s applicability from those who engage in “gross” human rights violations to merely “gross” violations — in objecting. to the legislation last week. One lawmaker, Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.), said the change could give a president the power to “threaten other countries to turn against their Christian heritage and change their laws to align with the views of the current White House”.
But Crapo has said he supports its passage, and no senator has publicly opposed it. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (DN.J.) said Wednesday that authorizing the Magnitsky Act, named after an anti-corruption crusader who died in a Russian prison, “would send exactly the wrong message at the most critical moment” and called for the immediate passage of the extension.
“Look, there are burnt bodies in the streets of Ukraine. There are mass graves to bury the dead. There are Ukrainians who melt snow to drink water to survive. So it’s really mind-boggling that we can’t get this legislation passed,” Menendez said.