House votes to maintain Russian sanctions
Washington – The House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to maintain sanctions on three companies connected to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, protesting the Treasury Department’s decision to lift the financial penalties.
The 362-53 vote was symbolic, as the Senate already had defeated a resolution to overrule the Treasury Department and keep the sanctions in place. Democratic senators on Wednesday narrowly failed to get the 60 votes needed to move forward despite 11 Republicans voting with them.
In the House, 136 Republicans voted with Democrats, sending a strong bipartisan message of disapproval to President Donald Trump’s administration on Russia.
At issue is a December announcement from the Treasury Department that the U.S. would lift sanctions on the companies linked to Deripaska –Russian aluminum manufacturing giant Rusal, EN+ Group and the Russian power company JSC EuroSibEnergo. EN+ Group is a holding company that owns nearly 50 percent of Rusal.
Congress had until Friday to vote to block the sanctions relief. 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 has warned that keeping the sanctions in place could upset global aluminum markets or even prompt the Russian government to nationalize the company, thus shutting it out from any outside control.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin briefed House members on the decision last week and Senate Republicans on Tuesday, all behind closed doors. Speaking after the Senate meeting, he said the sanctions “shouldn’t be a political issue.”
Mnuchin’s House briefing came after seven new Democratic chairmen called him in, one of the first moves of the new Democratic House to scrutinize Trump’s actions related to Russia. Democrats had asked Mnuchin to delay the sanctions decision until the end of February, but he would not agree.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said before the vote that Mnuchin’s answers in the briefing were inadequate. “With the threat that Russia poses to the United States, to our friends and allies around the world, Congress cannot just look the other way,” Engel said.
House Financial Services Chairman Maxine Waters said the United States needs to make sure “we don’t align ourselves with the people who are undermining this democracy.”
No House Republicans spoke on the House floor in favor of the Trump administration’s decision. Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, backed the resolution.