Senate upholds decision to lift sanctions on 3 Russian companies
WASHINGTON — The Senate has narrowly upheld a Treasury Department move to lift sanctions from three companies connected to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
A vote to move forward on a Democratic resolution that would have reversed Treasury’s decision failed Wednesday on a 57-42 vote, just short of the 60 votes needed. The vote came up short even though several Republicans had criticized the sanctions move and 11 of them voted with Democrats.
At issue is a December announcement from the Treasury Department that the United States 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 has 30 days from the announcement to vote to block it, a deadline that expires Friday. The House is expected to vote Thursday on a similar resolution to block Treasury’s move — a symbolic action after the Senate vote failed.
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, Treasury Secretary Steven 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 attended a closed-door GOP lunch on Tuesday and urged senators to vote against the Democratic resolution. Speaking after the meeting, he said the sanctions ‘‘shouldn’t be a political issue.’’ Echoing President Trump, Mnuchin said the administration ‘‘has been tougher on Russia with more sanctions than any other administration.’’
But Democrats — and almost a dozen Republicans — weren’t convinced. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said the agreement didn’t relinquish enough of Deripaska’s control and questioned whether Trump’s administration was doing Russia’s bidding.
‘‘For a very long time the Republican Party predicated its foreign policy on taking a tougher line against Russia and Putin,’’ Schumer said on the Senate floor before the vote. ‘‘In so many campaigns for president, we Democrats were accused of not being tough enough on the Russians. . . . It seems that acquiescence to the president, a fear of breaking with the president, has held back too many of my Republican colleagues from supporting this resolution.’’
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell encouraged Republicans on Tuesday to vote against it, reiterating 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 Russian president and the former Russian secret police and intelligence agency.
But one person has apparently escaped much of Christie’s blame for what ails the White House: Trump himself. Early book excerpts suggest Christie strains to spare Trump much responsibility for the chaos in which the president has found himself surrounded.
Trump said recently of the shutdown debate, ‘‘The buck stops with everybody,’’ and the former New Jersey governor seems to agree.
On Wednesday morning, Axios published a brief excerpt of the book, titled ‘‘Let Me Finish.’’ In it, Christie says those around Trump constitute a ‘‘revolving door of deeply flawed individuals — amateurs, grifters, weaklings, convicted and unconvicted felons — who were hustled into jobs they were never suited for, sometimes seemingly without so much as a background check via Google or Wikipedia.’’
According to this and a Guardian preview of the book, Christie reserves most of his ire for Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner, whose clashes with Christie have always been defined by the fact that Christie put Kushner’s father in jail for 14 months in 2005. But according to the Guardian, many other top Trump appointees find themselves in Christie’s crosshairs as well.
In the book, Christie goes after former national security adviser Michael Flynn (“the Russian lackey and future federal felon,’’ and ‘‘a train wreck from beginning to end . . . a slow-motion car crash”). He rather unsurprisingly attacks the man who got the attorney general job for which he had been considered, Jeff Sessions (“not-ready-for-prime-time”). And Christie says that, once he was cast aside as the head of Trump’s transition team, the team led by Vice President Mike Pence pursued a ‘‘thrown-together approach’’ that led to badly flawed senior officials ‘‘over and over again.’’
The Guardian adds that ‘‘one central character escapes relatively unscathed: Trump himself. The president is utterly fearless and a unique communicator, Christie writes — and his main flaw is that he speaks on impulse and surrounds himself with people he should not trust.’’
Axios reports that Christie repeats this very charitable explanation for Trump’s role in all of this, saying Christie writes that Trump merely ‘‘trusts people he shouldn’t, including some of the people who are closest to him.’’