WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress voted overwhelmingly Thursday to suspend normal trade relations with Russia and ban the import of its oil, stepping up the U.S. response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine amid reports of… atrocities.
The House action came after the Senate approved both bills with a 100-0 vote. The measures now go to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.
Lawmakers overwhelmingly support the substance of both bills, but they had languished for weeks in the Senate as lawmakers scrambled to iron out the final details.
Biden has already taken executive action to ban Russian oil, liquefied natural gas and coal in the United States. Legislation translates effort into law.
The bill to end normal trade relations with Russia paves the way for Biden to pass higher tariffs on various imports, such as some steel and aluminum products, further weakening the Russian economy under President Vladimir Putin. This also ensures that Belarus receives less favorable tariff treatment.
Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., said innocent Ukrainians were being slaughtered even as lawmakers convened.
“We have no time to waste and must immediately punish Vladimir Putin further,” Neal said. “What we have witnessed at Bucha in the past 72 hours alone more than justifies the positions we have taken in the past and to be more assertive and aggressive in the future.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D.N.Y., announced Wednesday night a breakthrough in negotiations to get the bills to votes before lawmakers return to their home states and congressional districts. for two weeks. Some lawmakers said failing to make a final decision on the bills sends the wrong message to allies and Russia.
“Now I wish it had happened sooner, but after weeks of discussions with the other side, it’s important that we have found a way forward,” Schumer said.
Schumer said the images coming out of Ukraine as the war drags on “is pure, pure evil. Hundreds of civilians murdered in cold blood.
“No nation whose military commits war crimes deserves free trade status with the United States,” Schumer said moments before the vote.
While there was overwhelming support for suspending preferential trade treatment for Russia, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Blocked early consideration of the bill, fearing his language on who can be sanctioned for human rights violations is too broad, leaving it ripe for abuse. A few other Republicans had expressed similar concerns.
Schumer opted to let senators work behind the scenes on language that lawmakers in both parties and the White House could accept, rather than chewing up floor time to overcome the filibuster.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said, in practice, the impact of the delay on the trade bill is minimal “because there’s hardly any trade right now from Russia.” . Still, he said passing the bill was important.
“Messaging is important here and showing the action is important,” Cardin said. “You have the Ukrainians on the battlefield every day. The least we can do is get these bills passed.
The bill also gives the president the power to restore normal tariff treatment for Russia as well as resume trade in Russian energy products under certain conditions.
While Russian oil represents only a small portion of US imports, it carries a high price for congressional lawmakers who saw the ban as a moral test to block an economic lifeline for Putin’s regime.
The White House says the sanctions the United States and more than 30 other nations have already passed have stung the Russian economy. He said experts now predict that Russia’s GDP will contract by up to 15% this year and inflation is already above 15%. More than 600 private sector companies have already exited the market.
“Russia will most likely lose its status as a major economy, and it will continue a long descent into economic, financial and technological isolation,” the White House report said.
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