Congress removes Russia’s trade status, OK’s ban on energy imports

by mcardinal

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News


The Senate and House of Representatives sent a pair of bills to President Joe Biden Thursday, voting unanimously in one house and nearly so in another to remove Russia’s favored nation trading status and institute a total ban on Russian energy imports.

Belarus, the nation most actively supporting Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, was included in all sanctions.

Removing Russia’s “most favored nations” status not only suspends normal trade relations between the U.S. and Russia but also opens the way for President Biden to impose punitive tariffs on those Russian products not already banned from importation.

“@POTUS looks forward to signing bipartisan bills codifying his announcements to end Permanent Normal Trade Relations with Russia and banning Russian energy imports,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan tweeted. “Thanks to Congress for its partnership and leadership in making Putin a global economic and financial pariah.”

Both bills passed by a 100-0 vote in the Senate, and each faced limited resistance in the House with the trade bill passing 420-3 and the energy bill 413-9.

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who along with fellow Republicans Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Thomas Massie of Kentucky voted against stripping Russia of its trade status, said he voted no on both bills because he feared they granted President Biden too much power while failing to account for the negative consequences Americans will face as a result of the new sanctions.

“President Biden should not have a blank check to sanction whoever he deems a ‘human rights violator,’” Gaetz wrote in a seven-part tweet thread. “Thus, I voted against legislation today intended to punish Russia and Belarus, but which actually gives the Biden Administration troubling, sweeping powers.”

In the same thread, the Congressman added, “It is not ‘Pro-Putin’ to observe second and third-order consequences of legislation that wanders far beyond its stated scope.  Empowering the Biden Administration to use ‘human rights’ as a weapon of global wokeness is a flawed strategy to defeat Russia or anyone else.”

Gaetz, though, spoke for a small minority of legislators. Republicans and Democrats showed a rare willingness to cooperate.

“We MUST be united if we’re going to hold Putin and those who enable him accountable for the atrocities they commit against the Ukrainian people,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) tweeted. “Cutting off their trade benefits to the U.S. is an important step – and I’ll keep fighting for more.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) tweeted, “Revoking Russia’s PNTR status sends the strong message to Vladimir Putin that he doesn’t get to tear down the international order, brutalize the Ukrainian people, and then benefit from normal trade relations. This is a big step in holding his regime accountable.”

While Republicans voted in favor of the bills, some did so while still angling for more energy production stateside.

“Russia must be fully accountable for its atrocious war crimes against innocent Ukrainian civilians,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) tweeted. “Banning normal trade relations and oil imports from Russia is a step in the right direction. However, we must prioritize making America energy independent again.”

Thursday’s Congressional votes followed a late-Wednesday decision that might prove more significant in terms of direct impact on the fighting in Ukraine.

For the first time since World War II, the United States will, pending President Biden’s signature, enact a streamlined lend-lease program. Under this program, the United States would be allowed to provide weapons more expeditiously to Ukraine. 

President Biden would be granted authority to enter a lend or lease agreement directly with Ukraine, which would serve as a way around bureaucratic measures that currently slow the processing of weapon transfers.

“The Senate continues to stand united in our support of Ukraine,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a bill co-sponsor, said in a statement. “I strongly believe Ukraine can win this war if the United States and our freedom-loving allies and partners around the globe help them win. This bipartisan legislation will streamline the process for the U.S. to provide the Ukrainians with the weapons needed to defeat Putin and protect their sovereign country, and I hope the House acts quickly to pass this bill and get it to the president’s desk.”

The last time the United States streamlined the processing of lethal aid in this manner was in 1941, when Congress granted President Franklin D. Roosevelt the ability to fast-track weapons to any nation he deemed appropriate.

In a historical irony, the initial beneficiaries of the World War II-era bill were China (April 1941) and the Soviet Union (early October 1941). Roosevelt did not extend the benefit to Great Britain until late October 1941.  

The modern-day lend-lease act is not so broad as its predecessor. It allows Biden to streamline weapons only to Ukraine and for two years, barring a vote to extend.