Levin calls on Senate to take up Russia trade bill with stronger human rights sanctions

Democratic senators had hoped to include human rights language that would have imposed travel and financial sanctions on alleged human rights violators around the world, but the House-passed version included language that sanctions only violators in Russia.

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Levin suggested that there was time to have a conference committee between the two chambers to work out the differences. The House version passed that chamber on a 365-43 vote last month.

“I don’t understand why we’re not taking up the Senate version and applying these standards universally,” Levin said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “The only answer I can get is that the House might not pass the Senate version. Well, we should do what we think is right.”

The Magnitsky language — authored by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) — would require the administration to identify officials involved in the Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsk’s death, make those names public, and freeze the U.S. assets related to those officials. Magnitsky was investigating corruption and theft of the Russian Government when he was jailed.

The original Senate version, imposed those same sanctions on human rights violators around the world. Levin said just because the bill is named after an human rights violation in Russia, doesn't mean the bill can't stop violations world-wide. 

“The United States has an opportunity here to make a statement about human rights not just in Moscow but around the world,” Levin said.

Levin said he was concerned that Russian President Vladimir Putin would use the fact that the bill singles out Russia as a way to turn his citizens against the United States.

The House version of the bill is expected to pass with broad support in the Senate Thursday.