Senators close in on deal on Russia trade, oil ban

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.)
Greg Nash

Senators believe they are closing in on a deal to quickly pass long-stalled bills ending normal trade relations with Russia and codifying an oil ban, after weeks of negotiations. 

Progress among a bipartisan group of negotiators is raising hope that the Senate could pass the two bills before leaving for a two-week break. Senate leadership is expected to formally check with all 100 senators on Wednesday to see if anyone would object to quick passage of the package. It would only take one senator to object and block votes this week. 

The Russia package includes two bills: One would codify the administration’s oil ban. The second would end permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with Russia and also reauthorizes Magnitsky Act sanctions that target human rights violations and corruption with penalties like visa bans or asset freezes. 

“We’ve made good progress. … I’m hopeful that we will be able to get something today,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (Idaho), the top Republican on the Finance Committee, who has been involved in the talks. 

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who has also been leading the negotiations, said he was “hopeful we have a path forward.” 

“I think it’s important for us to act sooner rather than later, so I think it’s important that we act now,” he said. 

Both bills previously passed the House but ran into roadblocks in the Senate. Republicans blocked quick passage of the House-passed trade bill, unless the oil ban bill also moved through the Senate. 

Then, negotiators ran into a days-long hurdle with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) who had issues with the House-passed language on reauthorizing the Magnitsky Act sanctions, which is riding on the trade legislation. The House bill changed the Magnitsky Act language from targeting “gross” human rights violations to targeting “serious” human rights violations, codifying a Trump-era executive order. 

Both Cardin and Crapo say they believe they have ironed out the sanctions language with Paul, though there was also hope last week that they had cut an agreement, only for additional hurdles to emerge. The deal, according to Cardin, would keep the original Magnitsky Act language currently in law, instead of updating it. 

Senators have been under pressure to try to move the Russia package before they leave for a two-week break as Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine. Because the Senate is expected to make changes to both the trade legislation and the oil ban bill, both would need to go back to the House for second votes before being sent to President Biden’s desk. 

But the Senate is also juggling multiple last-minute items as they prepare to head into their recess, with confirming Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black, female Supreme Court justice as a top priority for Democrats. It would also take just one senator to block quick votes on the Russia package. 

“Of all the things that could get done this week … I think that’s the most likely because it’s got the most bipartisan support,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said while cautioning that there wasn’t “finality” yet. 

Tags Ben Cardin John Thune Magnitsky Act Mike Crapo Permanent normal trade relations Rand Paul Russian invasion of Ukraine
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