Senate votes to suspend normal trade relations with Moscow and ban Russian gas and oil
WASHINGTON — Congress voted on Thursday to strip Moscow of its preferential trade status and to ban the import of Russian energy into the United States, sending legislation penalizing the Russian economy following the invasion of Ukraine to the Bureau of the President Biden.
The legislation would allow the United States to impose higher tariffs on Russian products and cut off an important source of income for President Vladimir V. Putin, although experts said the ban on oil and gas would be largely symbolic. Russian energy represents a small fraction of US imports, and Moscow is already struggling to export its oil.
Both bills passed overwhelmingly and with bipartisan support. In the Senate Thursday morning, each measure garnered a rare unanimous 100-0 vote, and when the House hours later moved to approve the bills, less than a dozen lawmakers opposed one or the other. Mr. Biden should sign them.
The rapid succession of votes capped weeks of partisan gridlock that paralyzed legislative action on Ukraine. The House passed similar legislation last month, but it languished as senators bickered over various provisions and demanded changes, particularly to human rights language that Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, deemed too much. large.
Wary of letting the bills sit in limbo as lawmakers prepare to leave Washington for a scheduled two-week recess, New York Democrat and Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer announced late Wednesday that the Senate would pass them hours before confirming Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, enacting a wild wave of legislation on schedule.
Lawmakers hailed the lopsided votes as sending an important and unified message as Russian soldiers continue a campaign of atrocities across Ukraine.
“No nation whose military commits war crimes deserves free trade status with the United States,” Schumer said Thursday. “No despicable thug like Putin deserves to be on equal footing with the leaders of the free world. He is a menace and an outcast who has ensured his place in history will be one of disgrace eternal.
The difficulty of passing legislation broadly backed by Republicans and Democrats in both houses to punish Russia — and replicating efforts announced by the White House nearly a month ago — has raised bleak prospects for future attempts by lawmakers to adopt drastic measures aimed at supporting Ukraine.
Senators on Wednesday night passed a bill to resurrect the Lend-Lease Act of 1941, last used during World War II to help allies fighting Germany, loan military equipment to the Ukraine. It passed after 9 p.m. without warning or debate, using a mechanism that automatically approves legislation unless a senator on the floor objects, indicating that lawmakers feared one or more of their colleagues do not travel to thwart the passage of the bill.
The measures passed Thursday were the first stand-alone bills intended to punish Moscow or help Kyiv that Congress has sent to Mr. Biden’s office in the more than 40 days since Russia invaded. The most significant bill Congress passed to help Ukraine was the $13.6 billion military and humanitarian assistance package passed last month, which was tied to a must-have federal spending bill. .
The United States’ decision to strip Russia of its preferential trading status – known as “permanent normal trade relations” – carries symbolic weight, but trade experts have said it will have a limited economic effect compared to other sanctions that have been imposed. The revocation of this status has a much greater effect for the European Union, Russia’s largest trading partner.
In the House, three Republican lawmakers — Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Thomas Massie of Kentucky — opposed the trade bill. Nine lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, opposed legislation targeting Russian energy products.