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Some in GOP Split With WH on Sanctions 01/16 06:15
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Almost a dozen Senate Republicans broke with the White
House Tuesday on Russia, voting to move forward on a resolution that would
maintain sanctions on companies linked to oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
The Democratic resolution would stop the Treasury Department from lifting
penalties against the Russian aluminum manufacturing giant Rusal and two other
companies connected to Deripaska. Senators took two procedural votes to proceed
to the resolution, with 11 Republicans voting with Democrats.
While Democrats are unlikely to get the 60 votes they will eventually need
to pass the resolution, the strong GOP showing --- which came hours after
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin came to Capitol Hill and urged Republicans to
vote against the resolution --- is yet another signal that Senate Republicans
are willing to oppose the White House and President Donald Trump on national
"I'll vote to disapprove Treasury's easing of sanctions on Russian
businesses involving oligarch & Putin ally Oleg Deripaska," Republican Sen.
Susan Collins tweeted after the vote. "He still would maintain significant
control given his ties to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. Easing the
sanctions sends the wrong message to Russia & to Deripaska."
At issue is a December announcement from the Treasury Department that the
U.S. would lift sanctions on the three companies --- Rusal, EN+ Group and the
Russian power company JSC EuroSibEnergo. EN+ Group is a holding company that
owns nearly 50 percent of Rusal.
The Treasury Department says the Russian companies have committed to
separating from Deripaska, who will remain blacklisted as part of an array of
measures announced in early April that targeted tycoons close to the Kremlin.
Treasury maintains that the companies have committed to diminish Deripaska's
ownership and sever his control. In a statement last week, Mnuchin said
Deripaska remains under sanctions, "his property and interests remain blocked,
and any companies he controls are also sanctioned."
Treasury has warned that the sanctions could upset global aluminum markets
or even prompt the Russian government to nationalize the company, thus shutting
it out from any outside control.
Mnuchin said after his closed-door meeting with Republican senators that the
sanctions "shouldn't be a political issue." Echoing Trump, Mnuchin said, "we
have been tougher on Russia with more sanctions than any other administration."
But 11 Republicans still voted to move forward on the resolution, which was
sponsored by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.
The vote came less than a month after a similar scenario played out in votes
to end U.S. assistance to Saudi Arabia for the war in Yemen and blame Saudi
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
While the Trump administration sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense
Secretary James Mattis to Capitol Hill to encourage Republicans to continue the
U.S. assistance, several Republicans defected, angered by what they said was
Trump's lackluster response to Khashoggi's killing.
The two measures were never considered by the House and expired at the end
of the congressional session.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell encouraged Republicans on Tuesday to
vote against the sanctions resolution, noting that Deripaska's influence over
the companies would be limited and calling the vote a "Democratic stunt."
McConnell said Republicans are "hardly strangers" to the need for strong
policies on Russia. He added that they have "long seen Vladimir Putin for the
KGB thug that he is," referencing the former Russian secret police and
Schumer said that if senators agree with McConnell that Putin is a thug,
"they'll vote yes" on the resolution.
"We're only a few Republican votes short of the U.S. Senate telling Putin he
can't run the show no matter what President Trump and his administration try to
do," he said.
The Senate is expected to hold another procedural vote to move forward on
the resolution Wednesday, and this time supporters will need 60 votes. If
Tuesday's tallies are any indication, they will be just short --- 57 senators
voted in support of proceeding to the resolution.
The House could also hold a vote soon, as Majority Leader Steny Hoyer,
D-Md., has introduced a similar resolution to Schumer's. Congress has 30 days
from the Dec. 19 announcement to block the sanctions decision.
Last week, House Democratic chairmen from seven committees called Mnuchin in
for a classified briefing on the easing of the sanctions. But many Democrats
left frustrated, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying she was "unimpressed."
In a letter asking Mnuchin for a briefing, the committee chairmen said the
sanctions deal appears to allow Deripaska to keep "significant ownership" of
one of the companies. They did not elaborate.
Democrats have asked for an extension of the 30-day timeline because the
sanctions announcement came just before a holiday recess and the start of the
government shutdown. Mnuchin said after his Senate meeting that Treasury will
see how the Senate vote goes.
"Our view is that we have great responsibility in managing the sanctions
programs all over the world, and we take those responsibilities very seriously
at Treasury," Mnuchin said.
In addition to Collins, of Maine, the Republican senators voting with
Democrats were John Boozman of Arkansas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Steve Daines
of Montana, Cory Gardner of Colorado, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Martha McSally
of Arizona, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Marco Rubio of Florida, Ben Sasse of
Nebraska and Jerry Moran of Kansas.
No daily commentary available
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