As the partial federal government shutdown continues to rage on and hundreds of thousands of government workers are still indefinitely out of the job, concern over the Trump administration’s Russia ties continues to boil over behind the scenes. This Tuesday, Senators voted to open debate on a measure that would block a Trump administration attempt to lift sanctions on three energy companies that have at least previously been majority owned by Oleg Deripaska, who is a close ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) put it:
‘Putin’s Russia continues to run rampant over international norms. Show me the behavior from Vladimir Putin that warrants such relief? I can’t think of any. I’ll put 90 percent of all Americans can’t think of any.’
A full 57 Senators voted in support of advancing the measure, which is allowed for under the terms of the legislation that provided for the sanctions in the first place. Deripaska has been targeted as the United States has dealt with the aftermath of the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 elections, placing the question of whether the sanctions should be lifted squarely in the realm of one of the most hot button issues of the current political conversation. The Trump administration and President Donald Trump himself have been continuously soft on Putin and the Kremlin, meaning that their effort to lift sanctions on some Deripaska-connected companies is hardly unfolding in a vacuum.
Their behavior elicited concern from high profile GOP Senators ranging from Maine’s Susan Collins to Florida’s Marco Rubio to Arkansas’ Tom Cotton and Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, all of whom voted in support of opening debate on the measure to protect the sanctions. Collins and Rubio have both explained that they believe the Trump administration is acting too quickly and Deripaska will maintain too much of a financial stake in the companies’ operation to let them roam freely.
Considering their comments, it’s likely that they’d be inclined to support a final measure blocking the sanctions relief, which just needs a simple majority. For that simple majority, as long as Democrats maintain their whole caucus, they’d need a total of four Republicans to stick with them. Besides possibly Collins and Rubio, they’ve also got the apparent long term support of Colorado Republican Cory Gardner.
In order for the sanctions relief to be successfully blocked, a similar resolution would need to pass the House, but considering Democrats are currently in the majority there its future is much less an open question. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has introduced a House version of the resolution that advanced in the Senate this Tuesday.
The Trump administration has sought to keep Congress from clamping down on their efforts to enact sanctions relief for the Russians. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has met with both House Democrats and Senate Republicans, but as of late Tuesday that hadn’t actually gotten the Trump team anywhere. House Democrats led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi herself slammed Mnuchin as having offered close to no actual new relevant information in a classified session he participated in, leaving the future an open question.
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