Democrats Fall Short in Effort to Rebuke Administration on Russia Sanctions

Democrats Fall Short in Effort to Rebuke Administration on Russia Sanctions

The Treasury Department has moved to ease sanctions against the Russian oligarch Oleg V. Deripaska’s companies.CreditCreditSergei Karpukhin/Reuters

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Wednesday narrowly staved off an effort by Democrats to deal the Trump administration’s Russia sanctions policy an embarrassing rebuke.

Eleven Republicans joined Democrats in a vote to enforce sanctions against the corporate empire of an influential ally of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, but the effort fell three votes short of the 60-vote threshold required to advance the measure. The vote was 57-42, with one Democratic senator not voting.

The sanctions against companies controlled by the influential oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska, now seem destined to be lifted this week as part of a deal negotiated by the Treasury Department to reduce Mr. Deripaska’s ownership and control of the aluminum giant Rusal and two linked companies.

Sanctions against Mr. Deripaska personally, which had gone into effect last April, remain in force and would not have been affected by the Treasury Department decision or the Senate measure. Mr. Deripaska’s companies waged an aggressive lobbying and legal campaign against the sanctions last year. The administration first delayed putting sanctions on the companies into effect and then announced last month it would lift them entirely.

The Republicans who voted against the administration plan were adhering to what had once been party orthodoxy: taking a hard line against Moscow. The Republicans who voted in favor of lifting the sanctions did so at a time when President Trump’s warmer stance toward Russia has inflamed questions about the Kremlin’s efforts to help elect him.

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, had worked to derail the congressional measure.CreditYuri Gripas/Reuters

Democrats had argued that the deal announced last month between the Treasury Department and Mr. Deripaska’s companies amounted to letting Russia off easy at a moment when serious questions remained about the relationship between Mr. Trump, his team and Russia.

Democrats had urged the administration to delay its decision on the fate of the sanctions until the conclusion of the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into Russian meddling on behalf of Mr. Trump in the 2016 election, and whether Mr. Trump’s team assisted the Russians. Mr. Deripaska has emerged as a bit character in the story lines around the investigation as a result of his relationship with Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, who has been convicted and pleaded guilty to charges brought by Mr. Mueller’s team.

The sanctions were announced by the Treasury Department last April on Mr. Deripaska, his companies and those of other Russian oligarchs in retaliation for the Russian meddling in the presidential election. The announcement was touted as evidence that the administration was taking a tough stance against Moscow.

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, had argued that the deal to lift the sanctions penalized Mr. Deripaska personally, while avoiding unintended economic ripple effects that could damage companies in the United States, Europe, Jamaica, Guinea and elsewhere by disrupting the supply of aluminum.

Mr. Mnuchin had defended the deal in meetings with lawmakers, and Mr. McConnell on the floor of the Senate accused Democrats of politicizing the sanctions on Tuesday.

Eleven Republican Senators voted with Democrats on a procedural vote on Tuesday to advance the measure, which cleared a 51-vote threshold, setting up Wednesday’s vote, which required 60 votes to keep the legislation alive. The same Republicans supported the measure again on Wednesday.

The Republican Senators who voted with Democrats were John Boozman of Arkansas; Susan Collins of Maine; Tom Cotton of Arkansas; Steve Daines of Montana; Cory Gardner of Colorado; Josh Hawley of Missouri; John Kennedy of Louisiana; Martha McSally of Arizona; Jerry Moran of Kansas; Marco Rubio of Florida, and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.


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