The House issued a symbolic rebuke Thursday to the Trump administration on Russia, overwhelmingly passing a resolution against lifting sanctions on companies tied to oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a Kremlin ally.
The vote, which required a two-thirds majority, passed the House 362-53 — a tally that included a majority of Republicans.
The House vote comes after a parallel measure narrowly failed in the Republican-controlled Senate, where 11 Republicans crossed party lines to join Democrats. In the House, there were 136 Republicans who supported the resolution and 53 who opposed.
Democrats in both chambers have slammed the Treasury Department for its plan to lift sanctions on three companies tied to Deripaska: Rusal, the world’s second-largest aluminum producer, its holding company EN+ Group and EN+ Group subsidiary JSC EuroSibEnergo.
According to the agreement struck with Treasury, Deripaska’s stake in EN+ Group was reduced from 70% to 45%, and he could only vote 35% of his shares. But critics of the agreement argued that Deripaska’s shares were distributed in a way that he would maintain control of the companies.
“The Treasury Department has not provided Congress with convincing evidence that the deal reached with Mr. Deripaska truly ends his control,” said House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff. “Nothing has changed in the Kremlin’s behavior to warrant the relaxation of these sanctions.”
Under a 2017 sanctions law, Congress has 30 days to review the lifting of sanctions. Democrats complained that Treasury announced its decision on December 19, and they haven’t had sufficient time to review the deal between the holidays and the organizing of a new Congress.
The deadline for Congress to disapprove of the sanctions is Thursday.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who introduced the sanctions resolution, said he asked Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to give Congress until February 28 to review the deal, but that after Wednesday’s Senate vote failed “the Treasury Department decided to go forward.”
“Congress cannot just look the other way when the administration rushes a decision like this,” said House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel.
Senate Republicans who voted to let Treasury go ahead argued that the Deripaska-linked companies followed the law that Congress passed in 2017 by removing Deripaska as majority owner of the companies.
“I support the administration on this because frankly the law is the law and we’ve got to follow the law,” said Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney.
Treasury’s decision to lift the sanctions came after a months-long lobbying effort from the companies and EN+ Group chairman Lord Barker of Battle, a member of the British House of Lords. The effort that was aided by former Louisiana GOP Sen. David Vitter and his firm, Mercury LLC.
Mnuchin made two trips to Capitol Hill to try to convince lawmakers that the deal was sound, arguing that keeping the sanctions would hurt the US economy and that Treasury had put in place regulations where an independent third party would control the shares that Deripaska relinquished.
Mnuchin’s message didn’t resonate for many lawmakers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi left the classified briefing for House members declaring it “one of the worst” briefings she’d been to in the Trump administration.
And many House Republicans joined with Democrats in order to pass Thursday’s resolution.
Texas Rep. Mike McCaul, the top Republican on House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the Treasury Department’s case was “not very compelling.”
“Because we cannot be sure we have removed the heavy hand of this Russian oligarch, I cannot support the delisting of these sanctioned entities at this point and time,” McCaul said.
While the sanctions relief is poised to move forward after the 30-day review expires Thursday, House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal said he would still dig into the issue.
“We intend here to proceed — even in the aftermath of this decision today and what the Senate did yesterday — to considerably take a look at this act that we believe today violates the intention of our congressional responsibilities,” Neal said.
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