Russia Trade Bill Wrangling Continues

Good afternoon to everyone, and happy birthday to my dad 🙂

Russia Trade Negotiations Expand

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul isn’t blocking the House-passed bill to end normal trade relations with Russia any more. But now that it’s expected to change and will have to go through the House again no matter what, a handful of other senators are pushing to hitch their priorities to what they know will be a must-pass bill.

It’s somewhat counterintuitive: Even as the Senate delay is costing valuable time in responding to Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine, the primary amendments Republican senators pushed this week would be tougher on Russia than the original legislation. For instance, one would require a higher standard for President Joe Biden to suspend a Russian oil import ban, a GOP Senate aide familiar with the discussions told The Dispatch this week. (The Senate is expected to consider the House’s oil ban bill alongside the trade relations measure.) Others would block Russian seafood, Russian uranium imports, and expand sanctions to Russian banks conducting energy transactions that were excluded from initial reprisals. And Sen. John Cornyn is calling for a lend-lease program that would make it easier for the United States to send weapons to Ukraine without the need for payment until later.

These are just a few of the amendments The Dispatch was able to get details on from sources involved in the talks—some senators are remaining quiet about what they want. Sen. Mike Crapo, the top Republican on the Finance Committee, told reporters Thursday seven or eight senators still have concerns. 

“There’s a bunch of issues, and we’re trying to work through each one,” he said. “Some are easier than others. And sometimes they get interrelated, and then sometimes other groups or interests get concerned about the solutions to somebody’s issues.”

But he’s hopeful a deal will emerge next week.

One change is clear for now: The bill will reauthorize presidential human rights sanctions powers, but with more limits than the House version. We wrote about this in more detail in last Friday’s Uphill—Sen. Paul initially blocked the trade bill because he was worried about revisions to the 2016 Global Magnitsky sanctions law that would give more power to the executive branch. This week, Paul and Senate Democrats hammered out an agreement to specify those sanctions authorities more clearly. 

The agreement will include a definition of “serious human rights abuse,” a phrase that had previously been undefined. Paul—and a number of other Republicans and religious freedom groups—feared the broad language could be used in the future to target, for example, foreigners who deny access to abortions. Under the deal reached this week, “serious human rights abuse” would be defined as genocide, torture, trafficking or forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and prolonged detention, and widespread abuses of freedom of peaceful assembly. The final language has not been filed, and changes are still possible.

New limits on the use of sanctions are likely to be included, according to a copy of the language obtained by The Dispatch: “A foreign person shall not be sanctioned per the Act because of speech, advocacy, association, and belief that would otherwise be lawful within the United States.”

Sean Nelson, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom International, said the alterations are “very positive developments” that respond to a lot of the concerns religious freedom groups had raised about the bill.

The ongoing wrangling over the legislation is likely to push passage back another week or more. Once approved by the Senate, the House will have to vote on the trade bill again to send it to Biden’s desk.

Cawthorn Tests McCarthy

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy doesn’t really police his conference. He has repeatedly ignored inflammatory rhetoric and outrageous behavior from fringe members. And he actively encouraged efforts to overturn the 2020 election. In extreme cases, McCarthy might sit down to chat with a member privately or offer a public condemnation. That’s what he did earlier this year, when Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar spoke at a white nationalist conference. Those moments are few and far between, though.

On the whole, it takes a lot to get McCarthy’s attention, and the rest of the House GOP conference has been largely fine with that hands-off approach. That is, until Rep. Madison Cawthorn stumbled across a clear red line this week. The North Carolina Republican’s comments on a podcast, in which he suggested his GOP colleagues engage in orgies and cocaine use, were just too beyond the pale for members—especially after they started to get calls from constituents asking if his claims were true.

McCarthy met with Cawthorn for half an hour this week after members complained about the allegations during their weekly conference meeting. McCarthy later told reporters Cawthorn had lost his trust, and that he threatened potential future consequences if Cawthorn does not change his behavior.

“You can’t make statements like that as a member of Congress,” McCarthy said. “It affects everybody else and the country as a whole.” He added that Cawthorn said during their conversation that the salacious claims were exaggerated. (For what it’s worth, Roger Stone said Thursday he knows “firsthand” that orgies and cocaine use happen in D.C., and Cawthorn told him after meeting with McCarthy that he had not retracted what he said.)

In recent weeks, Cawthorn has also raised his colleagues’ eyebrows for describing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as a “thug.” And earlier this month, he was charged with driving with a revoked license. North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr summarized it this way: “Clearly he’s been an embarrassment at times.” North Carolina’s other senator, Thom Tillis, endorsed a primary opponent Thursday in Cawthorn’s reelection race.

Despite his sit-down with McCarthy, Cawthorn is publicly projecting defiance. 

“The radical left, the establishment, and the media want to take me down,” he wrote alongside a new campaign ad on Thursday. “I won’t stop fighting. I won’t bow to the mob.”

Republican lawmakers who were frustrated with Cawthorn’s comments say they are going to keep an eye on whether Cawthorn continues to make trouble. Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas told Politico’s Olivia Beavers that a clear change is needed.

“Depends on what the outcome of the meeting was,” Womack said. “If it’s: ‘Hey, don’t do that, again.’ We’ve been there. That hasn’t worked.”

“Frankly, if western North Carolina is not going to fix the problem, then leadership will have to,” Womack added.

A Palate Cleanser

From my former Weekly Standard colleague Priscilla:

Suspension Goes Sideways

In this era of top-down legislating and tightly controlled processes, it’s rare for bills that leadership brings to the House floor to fail. It’s even rarer for it to happen with a bill considered under suspension of the rules, which is a process used for quick passage of uncontroversial measures. 

Suspensions require a two-thirds majority to pass, and they often manifest as post office renamings, nonbinding resolutions, and other widely supported bills. If leaders put a suspension bill on the schedule, they expect it won’t face much resistance. And that was initially the case this week, when House Democrats planned to pass legislation sponsored by Florida Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott to rename a courthouse in Tallahassee after the late Joseph Woodrow Hatchett, the first black justice on the Florida Supreme Court. 

When the bill came to the floor Wednesday, dozens of House Republicans voted for it at first. But then the tide shifted. Scores of “yes” votes reversed. The numbers ticked down, until it was clear the bill would fail to meet the threshold to pass. As the tally plummeted, applause broke out on the GOP side, concentrated where members of the House Freedom Caucus usually sit. Observers in the press gallery were left wondering: What happened? Why had Republicans spontaneously organized against a GOP bill?

Earlier that afternoon, a member of Georgia Republican Rep. Andrew Clyde’s staff had found a news story about an old ruling by Hatchett. The 1999 decision, made when Hatchett served on the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, overturned a ruling that would have allowed prayer at a Florida county’s high school graduation ceremonies. The staffer included the details in Clyde’s background material and recommendations for the vote series, according to an aide familiar with the events. 

Clyde showed information about the ruling to his colleagues on the House floor during the vote. It was potent, and it launched an immediate GOP whip effort against the bill, according to members and aides. Only 19 Republicans voted for the legislation in the end. (One Democrat, Rep. John Garamendi, also voted against the bill. His office told The Dispatch his vote was an accident, and he meant to support it. “He has already submitted a correction to the record and he hopes the bill will be voted on again not under a suspension so it can pass the House,” Garamendi spokesman Eric Olsen said.)

In a statement, Clyde told The Dispatch he has no doubt Hatchett “was a good man who served his country honorably,” but when his staff discovered the 1999 decision, he could not vote for the bill. 

A few GOP lawmakers were left wondering after the vote how intensely these bills should be scrutinized in the future, one member told The Dispatch. Should community memorializations of historic figures be blocked because of one judicial decision a party disagrees with? Where should the line be? Some felt tanking the Hatchett bill might have been an overreaction given the fact that 136 Republicans supported legislation the same day that would honor Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a statue in the Capitol. Other Republicans were frustrated with the GOP whip team for seemingly not looking into the controversial 1999 ruling before the vote.

Now that it has failed on suspension, it is unclear when, or if, House Democratic leaders will bring it forward through the normal House process. That would require only a simple majority to pass, a threshold the bill met on Wednesday. But a second attempt would likely mean floor time devoted to debating the measure, taking up bandwidth that could be used for other bills. 

A spokeswoman for Rubio declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Scott did not respond to two requests for comment.

Rep. Al Lawson, a Democrat from Tallahassee who sponsored the House version of the bill to name the courthouse after Hatchett, said he was “extremely disappointed in my Republican colleagues who voted against the measure, especially since the bill passed unanimously in the Senate.”

“The companion bill which was led by Sen. Rubio received bipartisan support and conservative members of the Florida delegation signed onto the bill as co-sponsors,” Lawson said. “To witness on the House Floor, Republican votes change in disapproval of the bill during the final seconds of roll call, was abhorrent.”

Worth Reading 

Former President Donald Trump had a uniquely expansive view of presidential authority, to put it mildly. After his term ended, Democratic lawmakers made a push to respond to some of his most notable excesses: more oversight for emergency declarations, stricter rules about succession at executive agencies, protections for inspectors general, repealing the 2002 authorization for war against Iraq. But that push has largely stalled. And with Republicans expected to take the House in November, the clock is ticking. Quinta Jurecic and Andrew Kent published a piece in Lawfare this week checking the status of several key proposals and why they haven’t made much headway. “The post-Trump period should have been a moment ripe for reforms of executive power,” they write. But it is always difficult to get support from the White House to curtail the power of current or future presidents.

Proposals to limit unilateral executive action and strengthen Congress’s hand were always going to be a hard sell to any White House concerned with preserving presidential power. But they’re probably even less attractive to the Biden administration given the likelihood of a Republican-controlled legislature. Providing a friendly Congress with the power to enforce subpoenas and restrain presidential use of emergency powers is one thing; it’s quite another to hand that authority to a Congress eager to stymie administration initiatives and investigate a Democratic president. 

Read the whole piece here.

Of Note

Chief asks for $105.5 million more in funding for Capitol Police

House passes bill to cap insulin prices

January 6 committee member says Jared Kushner’s testimony was a ‘useful exchange’

White House labor nominee David Weil blocked in Senate

Marco Rubio thinks China is complicit in Russia’s war on Ukraine

Orgies, cocaine and the dangers of boring sins

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