By KEVIN FREKING – Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate will pass legislation Thursday to end normal trade ties with Russia and ban imports of its oil, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Wednesday.
Both bills are deadlocked in the Senate, frustrating lawmakers looking to speed up the US response as the Ukraine war enters a gruesome new phase.
“It’s a big, big thing that we’re finally getting her done,” Schumer said. “Well I wish that could have happened sooner but after weeks of talking to the other side it’s important that we found a way forward. “
It’s been three weeks since the House of Representatives passed the trade suspension measure that paves the way for President Joe Biden to impose higher tariffs on certain Russian imports. At the time, the legislation was billed as a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies about the economic isolation Russia will face over the invasion of Ukraine.
The vote in the House of Representatives in mid-March came a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Congress in a virtual speech that “new sanctions packages are needed every week until the Russian military machine stops.”
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“You can’t just kill a bunch of people, destroy cities, kill women and children, and then go back and carry on as usual,” said Ukrainian-born US Rep. Victoria Spartz, an Indiana Republican, as the trade bill was being debated in the House .
Reports of civilians being tortured and killed in Ukraine and streets on the outskirts of Kyiv littered with bodies had some lawmakers this week questioning why the Senate had yet to take action on the law.
“What I want to say to senators is that all of this back and forth is truly unimaginable given the atrocities that everyone saw this weekend,” said Senator Ron Wyden, the Democratic chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
The House of Representatives legislature agreed.
“It sends a message of weakness,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said of the Senate’s inaction. “It seemed like a pretty bipartisan, easy thing to do, just like not importing energy from Russia, so it’s disappointing.”
There is overwhelming support for suspending preferential trade treatment for Russia. But Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has opposed a swift consideration of the bill, fearing its language on who can be punished for human rights abuses is too broad and leaves it open to abuse. He blocked a motion to vote on the bill, which requires the approval of all 100 senators. Schumer chose to let the senators handle it rather than chew up ground time to overcome the filibuster.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said practically speaking, the delay’s impact on the trade bill is minimal “because there is virtually no trade from Russia right now.” Still, he said the passage is important.
“Messaging is important here and showing action is important,” Cardin said. “You have the Ukrainians on the battlefield every day. The least we can do is get these bills through.”
Senator John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said the Senate delay was difficult to explain. But he put the burden on Schumer.
“I think part of that is really just having a leadership in the Senate that’s holding the floor and is willing to do whatever it takes to get this thing done,” Thune said. “If that had been a priority, I think it would be done.”
Democrats counter that the path proposed by Thune requires dedicating valuable speaking time to a bill that passed the House 424-8.
Rep. Kevin Brady, the senior Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees trade, said it was important for Schumer to get the senators together and get the bill passed.
“We witnessed these atrocities. America needs to step in now and stop funding the war,” Brady said.
The House of Representatives also passed the oil ban about a month ago. The bill would codify restrictions on Russian oil that Biden has already put in place through executive action.
Schumer said Putin must be held accountable for war crimes against Ukraine. He also said Putin was guilty of genocide.
“The formal suspension of normal trade ties with Russia is just what the Senate needs, as it will deal another serious blow to Putin’s economy,” Schumer said. “This is a key element of any strategy to hold Putin accountable for his brutal attacks on innocent civilians.”
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