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House moves to sanction Russian oil, review trade relations in wake of war in Ukraine

The legislation builds on a ban Biden placed on Russian oil and natural gas and calls for an evaluation of Russia's membership in the World Trade Organization.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The House passed legislation late Wednesday that aims to cut off Russian energy imports to the U.S. and give the president greater authority to sanction the Kremlin over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Suspending Energy Imports from Russia Act , which passed the House with a strong bipartisan vote of 414-17, would ban all Russian energy imports to the United States, an extension of President Joe Biden's executive order signed into law Tuesday which cut off the U.S. supply of Russian oil, natural gas and coal.

Combined with Biden's sanctions targeting Russian energy, banks and oligarchs, the bill marks a continued effort by the United States to constrict Russia's economy and undermine its ongoing attack on Ukraine.

If passed by the Senate, the legislation would also expand the scope of the Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, existing law that lays out guidelines for levying international sanctions against a person or country who violates human rights or engages in substantial corruption.

The Magnitsky Act was originally passed in 2012 to sanction Russian human rights abuses and was expanded in 2016 to apply globally. The bill's changes to the Magnitsky Act would expand its scope so that Russian violations of Ukrainian territorial integrity as well as attacks on Ukrainian civilians can be used as the basis for presidential U.S. sanctions.

"The more economic pain we inflict on Putin, the more pressure he will feel to finally in this brutal campaign of terror on the Ukrainian people. said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, a Democrat from Massachusetts, on the House floor Wednesday.

Another provision of the bill is aimed at reviewing Russia's membership in the World Trade Organization, the multinational group that regulates trade between member nations, often with reduced tariffs.

While the U.S. alone does not have the authority to kick Russia out of the World Trade Organization, the House bill asks other countries in the organization to suspend their trade agreements and tariff discounts with Russia and will require a review of Russia's membership in the organization.

"Membership is a privilege that comes with responsibilities and bad actors who destabilize global security should not enjoy the economic benefits of belonging to that body," Representative Richard Neal, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said on the House floor Wednesday night.

It does not, however, cut Russia off from trading non-energy products with the United States or deny Russia from receiving U.S. tariff discounts.

"Expelling Russia from the WTO certainly will have a very sharp impact on the ability for Russia to trade for everything else but oil and, in fact, for Russia to be negotiating trade disputes. So that that could have quite an impact. It does require coordinated effort. It's not clear if the U.S. alone really can do anything on that front other than lead the charge," Paasha Mahdavi, assistant professor of political science at the University of California Santa Barbara, said in an interview

An earlier draft of the bill included a provision that would have stripped Russia and Belarus of normal trade relations with the United States, but that policy did not make it into the final text of the House legislation.

Some lawmakers asserted that the White House was concerned about such a move and had pressured Congress to cut it from the bill.

"The President demanded a lesser path and the House Democrats have chosen to support him in that effort. However, I do know that doing nothing is not an option, so I will support this bill," Representative Adrian Smith, a Republican from Nebraska, said on the House floor Wednesday night.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi applauded the bipartisan legislation, which passed immediately after the House approved more than $13 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine.

"The United States does not need to choose between defending our democratic values and protecting our economic interests. On a bipartisan and bicameral basis, the Congress will continue to work with the Administration to take every potential action to limit the costs of Putin’s aggression on American families," Pelosi said in a letter to Democratic lawmakers Tuesday.

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