Michigan Rep. Sander Levin, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, is diverging from President Barack Obama on a trade bill with Russia.
That adds Levin to the growing list of Democrats who have parted ways on various issues with the president.
The powerful Michigan congressman wants the United States to avoid boosting trade relations with Russia until that nation joins the rest of the world in calling out Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad for the murder of his citizens, The Hill
reports. Russia is a key backer of Assad, providing important weaponry.
“Trade is about commerce. It also can be about conscience,” Levin said in prepared remarks at a hearing on the trade issue Wednesday. The Obama administration and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., support permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with Russia without a link to the Syria issue.
But Levin wants to link closer trade relations with Moscow to a change on its policy toward Syria and approval of human rights guarantees.
Levin says Congress should pass a bipartisan trade bill “with the clear understanding that after a bill is reported out of committee in the near future, action on the floor will be withheld for a period of time to determine whether Russia will join our nation and others in steps to address the Assad regime’s horrendous violence against its own people.”
The trade bill also should be linked to a human rights proposal — the Magnitsky bill — that imposes financial and travel sanctions on Russians who violate human rights, Levin says.
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