Vote on Russia human-rights bill postponed

A Senate panel postponed a vote on a Russian human-rights bill until next Tuesday after a panel member asked for a delay.

Under the Foreign Relations Committee's rules, any member can anonymously request a holdover until the panel's next business meeting. The delay comes the day after President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin had a frosty meeting at the Group of 20 summit in Mexico.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the bill's Senate sponsor, said he didn't think the delay had anything to do with the Obama-Putin meeting or the White House's concerns with the bill. He said he expects it to pass the House and Senate. 

“I am very confident that they're not delaying our action,” Cardin said. “Doesn't mean they're supporting our action.

“We've been working very closely with the Obama administration. They've been very much engaged in what we're doing.”

The legislation under discussion, named after Sergei Magnitsky, a whistle-blowing lawyer who died in police custody, would hit Russian human-rights violators with financial and travel sanctions. Some proponents of the bill have made it a precondition for their support of establishing permanent normal trade relations with Russia when it joins the World Trade Organization next month.

A draft of the bill released Monday would allow the administration to keep secret some names on the list of abusers, prompting concerns from the equity firm Hermitage Capital where Magnitsky worked when he died.

"The administration is trying to gut the bill, because they've been against it from the start,” Hermitage Capital CEO William Browder told Reuters. “They are trying to make nice with the Russians.”

Cardin told reporters on Tuesday there was nothing unusual about allowing national security waivers to avoid hamstringing the executive branch.

“This is consistent with the original draft of the bill,” Cardin said. “I just don't think (Browder) has read the language or the intent of what we've done here. The intent is for public listing. If there's a national security interest that requires a classified annex, the administration has to justify that.”

The Obama administration has pressed Congress to keep the two issues separate, saying that a trade deal with Russia would help U.S. exporters and boost the nation's economy.

The debate over Russian trade relations comes at a time when tensions are mounting between the United States and Russia. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has accused Russia of sending attack helicopters to help Syrian President Bashar Assad keep his hold on power.

Obama and Putin released a 1,600-word statement after their meeting Monday touting their cooperation on everything from the Iranian nuclear showdown to nuclear nonproliferation, but the chill between the two leaders was evident.

Neither Obama nor Putin mentioned the Magnitsky bill, which Russia strongly opposes.

This post was updated at 4 p.m.