Senators have cut a deal with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) aimed at breaking the logjam over legislation to limit trade with Russia.

The agreement — confirmed by Paul and Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican — would clarify what qualifies as a violation of human rights under a U.S. law named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Ukrainian-born Russia who died in police custody more than a decade ago in Moscow.

Senators are using the bill House-passed bill ending normal trade relations with Russia to reauthorize the Magnitsky Act sanctions.

“They will include specific language defining what human rights abuses are and that we don’t have the problem of having language that can be misinterpreted,” Paul said, asked by The Hill they had worked out a deal on the sanctions language. 

The original Magnitsky bill targeted “gross” violations of human rights. 

The language in a bill approved by the House and now under consideration by the Senate would expand that to target “serious” human rights violations, codifying language used in a Trump-era executive order. 

As part of the deal with Paul, senators agreed to keep the “serious” violation phrasing but provided a definition for what would qualify.

Thune said the concern with the original House language “was too broadly defined.”

“They were willing to accept changes. … They just had a mind meld,” Thune said. 

Spokespeople for Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), who helped negotiate the deal, didn’t immediately respond to a question about the agreed upon definition. 

The agreement with Paul comes after he blocked quick votes on the House-passed bill ending normal trade relations with Russia as well as separate legislation codifying the administration’s ban on Russian oil imports.

Without a deal with Paul, the bill could have been delayed for weeks. The Senate’s schedule is expected to be dominated next week by the Supreme Court nomination, and then lawmakers will leave for a two-week break. 

Paul stopped short of saying that he had dropped his blockade on the bill but reiterated that he believed they had a deal on language and, presuming it was in the bill, that he expected to formally drop the hold. 

He added in a statement on Wednesday afternoon that he was “pleased that the majority agreed to compromise and explicitly define human rights abuses that may be sanctioned.”

“Adopting a specific definition of human rights abuses will prevent the unintended result of allowing the sanctioning of individuals who strongly disagree with the assertion that various policies such as free housing, free healthcare, free abortions, and free internet are somehow human rights that could be abused,” he added.

Getting a deal with Paul is a significant boost to hopes of getting a quick Senate vote on the trade bill as well as the separate legislation on the oil ban. 

Making changes to the trade bill though will require it to go back to the House for a second vote. The oil ban bill is also expected to face technical changes that will force it go back to the House. 

There are also other smaller roadblocks that negotiators need to work out. 

Thune said it was a “finite list” and that negotiators seemed “hopeful.”

There are also other smaller roadblocks that negotiators need to work out, including requests from Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska). Cornyn wants to get a provision into the trade bill to let Biden lend and lease military aid to Ukraine under the Arms Export Control Act. 

Thune said the list of additional hang-ups was a “finite list” and that negotiators seemed “hopeful.”

“They’ve got some other holds they are working through,” he said. 

Updated: 6:12 p.m.

Tags Ben Cardin Dan Sullivan Human rights abuses John Cornyn John Thune Magnitsky Act Rand Paul Roger Wicker Russia Sergei Magnitsky Ukraine
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