Congress returns to work Monday afternoon to deal again with Russia, China, and the 2023 budget from President Joe Biden, which has been delayed for weeks by the refusal of congressional Republicans to allow a budget for 2022 to pass. The Senate Judiciary Committee will meet to discuss Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. The full Senate will have to deal again with perennial obstructionist Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).
For the majority of the week the House is scheduled to work through uncontroversial suspension bills, though other legislative business could arise, while the Senate spins its wheels. One of the things the House has been waiting for is the China trade competition bill, which was passed once by the Senate last year, changed in the House to add tariffs, and has now returned to the Senate where a cloture vote is scheduled for late afternoon on Monday. If the Senate agrees to move forward on the bill, they’ll move straight to final passage, an agreement worked out ahead of time between leaders Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell to allow for the final vote to move without the usual post-cloture delay, but with a 60-vote threshold for final passage.
Then that bill goes to a House/Senate conference. The House included immigration provisions to create a new visa category to encourage entrepreneurs to come the U.S. and to make it easier for foreign-born graduates of American universities with doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields to work in the U.S. Those changes seem to be amenable to the Senate—Republicans and Democrats—so it’s just possible that it happens Monday.
It’s also possible that Paul screws everything up again, just like he did last week when he refused to allow further Russia sanctions to pass. The Senate tried to pass legislation combining two House-passed bills, one codifying the Biden administration’s ban on the import of Russian oil, and a second ending permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with Russia and requiring the administration to advocate for Russia’s ejection from the World Trade Organization. The part that Paul is objecting to reauthorizes and expands the Global Magnitsky Sanctions.
The 2012 Magnitsky Act imposed sanctions on Russian officials believed to be responsible for the torture and death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian account who exposed corruption among high-level government officials. Since then, the law has been expanded to allow the White House to impose visa bans and sanctions on individuals anywhere in the world it deems responsible for “gross” human rights violations and acts of significant corruption. The bill from the House expands sanctions and travel bans to individuals who are responsible for “serious” human rights violations, and that’s why Paul doesn’t like.
He wants the language changed back to “gross” and to be defined as torture, cruel and inhumane treatment, and indefinite detention, arguing that it is too ill-defined and could included sanctioning someone who has denied access to abortions. (Because of course he’s going to make it about abortion.) Leadership tried to fob him off with an amendment vote on his preferred language, but he refused to go along with that.
“It has to be in the body of it. I’m not voting on it. It has to be in the body” of the bill, he insisted last week. Paul stands alone in his demand, and because the Senate is the Senate, he alone can block the bill from moving forward. He alone can demand changes that require the bill to go back to the House, another delay.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) said that this argument had already happened in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Paul had already lost. He also said that Paul’s language undercuts what Congress is trying to accomplish with these actions. “The substance of it is that it would not allow us to do what we need to do in regards to Mr. Putin and Russia,” Cardin said. Which is apparently what Paul, that infamous go-between for Trump and Putin, seems to be after.
He’s delaying the removal of PNTR and Magnitsky sanctions, as well as doing his damnedest to weaken those sanctions and prevent holding Russian officials responsible for crimes against humanity—to the extent the U.S. can do so unilaterally. It could be because of the long-standing involvement of Russian oligarchs in Paul’s home state of Kentucky. It could be because he, like plenty of other Republican senators, has enjoyed the hospitality of Vladimir Putin. Somebody in charge might want to get to the bottom of what’s going on there with Paul and the Russians.
Meanwhile the Jackson nomination will inch forward in committee, which meets Monday to review the week of hearings and where Republicans probably won’t be pilloried for the racist, sexist, and disgusting performance they foisted on Jackson last week.
Despite the fact that her confirmation is assured, Republicans are going to delay it as long as possible. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) made clear Friday that he would vote for her, ending any question of her ultimate confirmation. Committee members are able to hold over nominations by putting off a vote for a week, so that’s what Republicans do. The committee is expected to approve her—on party lines—on April 4, with a floor vote later in the week.
The single Republican committee member who acknowledged the “jackassery” of his colleagues, Sen. Ben Sasse (NE), made it clear Friday that he is still a Republican who will use made-up reasons to oppose her despite the fact that she “is an extraordinary person with an extraordinary American story,” and “has impeccable credentials and a deep knowledge of the law.”
Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (AK), Susan Collins (ME), and Mitt Romney (UT) are her only possible supporters in the full Senate. Collins is concerned about her “judicial philosophy” (Sasse’s made-up thing), Murkowksi is as usual mum on her thinking, and Romney is meeting her Monday. He mildly criticized Republican attacks during the hearings, saying “there is no there, there,” but is also holding out the possibility of opposing her on those elusive “judicial philosophy” grounds.
That said, with Manchin behind Jackson, Schumer’s goal of having her approved before the April 11 Easter recess will be achieved in two weeks, barring Senate catastrophe, COVID-19 infections among Democrats, or other acts of nature.
Republished with permission from Daily Kos.