House

Lawmakers on left, right explain ‘no’ votes on Russia-Ukraine bill

Some of the eight lawmakers who voted against a nonbinding bill urging President Biden to seize assets from sanctioned Russian oligarchs and utilize the funds to assist Ukraine are coming out to explain their positions, including some arguing that the bill would give the government too much authority.

The House passed the Asset Seizure for Ukraine Reconstruction Act on Wednesday in a 417-8 vote. The largely symbolic measure calls on Biden to seize assets from Russians who acquired their wealth in part through corruption linked to or in political support for President Vladimir Putin, then use the liquidated resources to support Ukraine amid its war with Russia.

Assets valued higher than $2 million that belong to Russian energy companies or foreign individuals with wealth tied to the Kremlin would be subject to the legislation. The bill encourages the establishment of an interagency working group to determine how the U.S. can seize and confiscate the assets.

Some of the most liberal and conservative members of the House voted against the bill: Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Chip Roy (R-Texas).

Asked for explanation on his vote, Massie told The Hill that “giving Joe Biden unilateral authority to seize property in the United States without any due process sets a dangerous and disturbing precedent.”

Tlaib appears to have a similar mindset. Denzel McCampbell, a spokesperson for Tlaib’s office, told The Hill that while the congresswoman supports sanctioning Russian oligarchs in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and seizing assets acquired through corruption, “she does oppose allowing our government to unilaterally seize people’s assets with no legal process.”

McCampbell said the bill “provides essentially no evidentiary standards for asset seizure,” does not require the government to report details regarding evidence it says it has, does not include provisions that protect the due process rights for individuals and “contains zero measures to ensure transparency and accountability.”

“Due process is the foundation of our legal system. While seizing ill-gotten Russian oligarch assets is a righteous cause, we cannot create a precedent that would allow our government to ignore due process rights no matter the justification, because tomorrow the issue will be different but that precedent will remain,” McCampbell added.

Roy said he voted against the bill because it “effectively gives the president a blank check to fund poorly-defined ‘democracy and human rights programming and monitoring.’” He told The Hill that he does not think “Congress should support handing off more of its job to the executive branch and simply trust the Biden administration to follow due process.”

A spokesperson for Ocasio-Cortez’s office argued in a statement to The Hill that the bill would compel Biden to violate the Fourth Amendment by seizing private property, then allow him to determine where it goes without due process. She said the terms would set a “risky new precedent.”

“Oligarchs should suffer huge financial losses, which is why the Congresswoman participated in designing and voted for the toughest sanctions in recent memory. But this vote asked President Biden to violate the 4th Amendment, seize private property, and determine where it would go – all without due process,” the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for Bush’s office told The Hill that the congresswoman’s decision to vote against the legislation followed the lead of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which denounced an earlier version of the bill earlier this month, calling it unconstitutional.

The ACLU, however, did not oppose the bill that was ultimately brought to the floor. After the ACLU aired its concerns the sponsor and committee revised the legislation, which resolved the group’s worries.

Bush’s spokesperson said the congresswoman followed the ACLU’s stance from earlier this month on the grounds that the bill would set a poor precedent.

And as for Omar, she objected to the legislation because it was a symbolic bill. Asked if she thought the bill was worth supporting for its symbolic nature of urging Biden to make such a move, the congresswoman said “absolutely not.”

“When you do something symbolic like this you have Ukrainians who are believing this is being done, and that there are resources that are going to come to them, and you can’t do that to people,” she added.

Cawthorn and Greene did not respond to requests for comment.

Updated April 29 at 10:49 a.m.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Chip Roy Joe Biden Rashida Tlaib Russia Russo-Ukrainian War Thomas Massie Ukraine Ukraine crisis Ukraine invasion Ukraine war Vladimir Putin

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