WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate will take legislation Thursday to end normal trade relations with Russia and ban imports of its oil, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Wednesday.
Both bills have been stalled in the Senate, frustrating lawmakers who want to speed up the US response as the Ukraine war enters a grueling new phase.
“It’s a big, big deal that we’re finally getting them done,” Schumer said. “Now, I wish it could have been quicker, but after weeks of talks with the other side, it’s important that we find a way forward.”
It’s been three weeks since the House passed a trade suspension measure, which paves the way for President Joe Biden to impose higher tariffs on some Russian imports. At the time, the law was billed as sending a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies about the economic isolation Russia would face for invading Ukraine.
House votes in mid-March Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Congress in a virtual speech that “a new package of sanctions is constantly needed every week until the Russian military machine shuts down.”
“They simply can’t do business as usual by killing a group of people, destroying cities, killing women and children, and then going back,” said Ukraine-born US Rep. Victoria Spartz, a Republican from Indiana, said the trade bill was debated in the House.
Reports of civilians tortured and killed in Ukraine, with corpses strewn with corpses on the streets on the outskirts of Kyiv, have some lawmakers this week questioning why the Senate has yet to act on the bill.
Ron Wyden, Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said, “What I am saying to the senators is that the atrocities that everyone saw this weekend are truly unimaginable.”
House lawmakers agreed.
On Senate inaction, R-Texas Representative Michael McCall said, “It sends a message of weakness.” “It seemed like a pretty bipartisan, easy to do, like Russia not importing energy, so it’s disappointing.”
There is overwhelming support for Russia to suspend preferential trade practices. But Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has objected to swift consideration of the bill over concerns that the language of who can be sanctioned for human rights abuses is too broad, making it ripe for abuse. . He blocked a request for a voice vote on the bill, which requires the consent of all 100 senators. Schumer opted to let the senators work it out instead of chewing up floor time to clear away the filibuster.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, said, in practice, the impact of the delay on the trade bill is minimal “because there is no trade coming in from Russia right now.” Still, he said the route is important.
“Messaging is key here and showing action is important,” Cardin said. “You see Ukrainians on the battlefield every day. The least we can do is get these bills passed.”
2 Republican Senator John Thune said the delay in the Senate was hard to explain. But he put the onus on Schumer.
“I think part of it is really just the leadership in the Senate that’s going to manage the floor and be willing to do whatever it takes to make this work,” Thune said. “If it had been a priority, I think it would have been done.”
Democrats say going the route suggested by Thune needs to dedicate precious floor time to a bill that will pass 424-8 in the House.
Representative Kevin Brady, the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade, said it was important for Schumer to get the senators together and get the bill passed.
“We are witnessing these atrocities. America needs to lose weight now and stop funding the war,” Brady said. “President Zelensky asked for it a month ago and here we are – still commotion.”
The House also passed the oil embargo about a month ago. The bill would codify sanctions on Russian oil that Biden has already imposed through executive action.
Schumer said Putin should be held accountable for the war crimes against Ukraine. He also said that Putin was guilty of the genocide.
“Formally canceling normal trade relations with Russia is the right thing for the Senate because it would be another big blow to Putin’s economy,” Schumer said. “It is an important part of any strategy to hold Putin accountable for the barbaric attacks on innocent civilians.”
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