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Senate unanimously passes Russia trade, embargo bills and House clears them

Legislation would also authorize human rights law

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore.,  left, and ranking member Sen. Michael D. Crapo, R-Idaho, worked together on the bills. Crapo insisted that Congress keep oversight of executive trade actions.
Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., left, and ranking member Sen. Michael D. Crapo, R-Idaho, worked together on the bills. Crapo insisted that Congress keep oversight of executive trade actions. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

United in bipartisan outrage, the Senate voted unanimously Thursday to remove Russia’s favorable trade status and to ban the import of its energy products and the House followed a short while later, clearing the bills for the president to sign.

Senators passed the trade status revocation bill (HR 7108), as amended, with a 100-0 vote. They then voted 100-0 to approve the oil embargo bill (HR 6968), as amended. The House vote to concur in the trade status measure was 420-3 and to concur on the embargo legislation was 413-9.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said legislation to revoke Russia’s most-favored-nation status, also known as permanent normal trade relations, would deliver a “painful, severe” financial blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine and overseeing alleged war crimes against civilians.

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., echoed Schumer, saying the removal of the favorable trade status “hammers home that Putin has made Russia into a pariah state.”

House Ways and Means Chair Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., and ranking member Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said the bills would deliver a one-two blow to Russia.

The legislation once signed will “send a message to a dictator in Russia,” Neal said.

Ending the favored status for Russian and Belarusian products would result in higher tariffs to products. Russia and Belarus would join Cuba and North Korea as the only countries denied permanent normal trade relations by the U.S.

The amended bills resolved Republican concerns over both House bills that would have changed the current standard for imposing sanctions under a law known as the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act from gross human rights violations to serious human rights abuse. The Senate kept House provisions that would permanently authorize the human rights law.

In March, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., blocked votes on the bills, arguing that the House language was so broad that the U.S. could decide to impose sanctions for anti-abortion policies or for policies that did not support gay or transgender rights.  

Both House bills had contained Magnitsky language. In the Senate’s amended bills, only the legislation removing most-favored-nation status now contains the language.

Under the legislation to end Russia’s preferable trade status, the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office would be directed to work to persuade other members of the World Trade Organization to suspend most-favored-nation status for Russia, work to get the World Trade Organization to suspend Russia’s membership in the global institution, and work to block Belarus’ entry into the WTO.

Under the oil embargo bill, the president would have the authority to issue a waiver on the embargo of oil, natural gas, coal and other petroleum products from Russia. The legislation is designed to complement a March 8 presidential executive order putting in place U.S. restrictions on importing Russian oil, liquefied natural gas, coal and other petroleum products.

However, the president would have to certify to Congress that Russia has reached an agreement to withdraw its military from Ukraine and end hostilities there, poses no immediate threat to NATO members and recognizes the right of the Ukrainian people to freely choose their own government.

Congress could reject the certification if the House and Senate both reject the decision by passing a joint resolution of disapproval.

The president would have to meet similar conditions if he decided to restore most-favored-nation status to Russia or Belarus. The substitute amendment added the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees as panels that would review the certification.

Under the legislation, the president would have the authority until Jan. 1, 2024, to set by proclamation tariff rates that are higher than the standard rates known as Column 2 for imported products.

Senate Finance Committee ranking member Michael D. Crapo, R-Idaho, was deeply involved in negotiating changes to the bill and said the ability of Congress to act as a watchdog through the bills was crucial.

“The congressional action, including the certification criteria in the bills, is critical because it signifies a standing commitment to the Ukrainian people and to our NATO allies that is more durable than Putin’s machinations in Ukraine,” Crapo said Wednesday night.     

Schumer said the final votes were the result of bipartisan negotiations and praised Crapo, “who worked in good faith with us together, and we wouldn’t have reached this outcome without his diligence and good faith.”

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