The Senate voted unanimously Thursday to suspend normal trade relations with Russia and ban the importation of its oil, ratcheting up the U.S. response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine amid reports of atrocities.
Lawmakers overwhelmingly support the substance of the two bills, but they had languished for weeks in the Senate as lawmakers worked to hammer out the final details. Both bills are expected to gain the House's support later Thursday before going to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.
Each bill passed the Senate unanimously, 100-0.
Biden has already taken executive action to ban Russian oil, liquefied natural gas and coal to the United States. The legislation puts the effort into law.
The bill to end normal trade relations with Russia paves the way for Biden to enact higher tariffs on various imports, such as certain steel and aluminum products, further weakening the Russian economy under President Vladimir Putin. It also ensures Belarus receives less favorable tariff treatment.
“Ending normal trade relations hammers home that Putin has made Russia into a full-fledged pariah state," said Sen Ron Wyden, the Democrat chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced late Wednesday a breakthrough in negotiations to bring the bills up for votes before lawmakers travel back to their home states and congressional districts for two weeks. Some lawmakers said that the failure to take final action on the bills was sending the wrong message to allies and to Russia.
“Now, I wish this could have happened sooner, but after weeks of talks with the other side, it's important that we have found a path forward," Schumer said.
Schumer said the images coming out of Ukraine as the war drags on “are pure, pure evil. Hundreds of civilians murdered in cold blood."
“No nation whose military is committing 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 speedy consideration of the bill over concerns that its language on who can be sanctioned for human rights abuses is too broad, leaving it ripe for abuse. A few other Republicans had voiced similar concerns, though the bill passed 424-8 in the House.
Schumer opted to let senators work behind the scenes on language that lawmakers from both parties and the White House could accept, rather than chew up floor time to overcome the filibuster.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said, practically speaking, the impact of the delay on the trade bill is minimal “because there's virtually no trade right now coming in from Russia." Still, he said passage of the bill is important.
“Messaging is important here and showing action is important," Cardin said. “You've got the Ukrainians on the battlefield every day. The least we can do is get these bills passed."
The bill also provides the president with the authority to return normal tariff treatment for Russia as well as resume trade in Russian energy products subject to certain conditions.
While Russian oil makes up only a small part of U.S. imports, it carries a high price for lawmakers in Congress who viewed the ban as a moral test in blocking an economic lifeline for Putin’s regime.
While the two bills had already received overwhelming support in the House, changes made as a result of the Senate negotiations means the chamber will have to take them up again, which is expected later Thursday.
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