Senate Bill to Protect Magnitsky Act from Trump-Putin Deal
The authors of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and John McCain (R-AZ), have sponsored legislation to limit the President’s authority to terminate or alter sanctions under the law, better known as the Magnitsky Act.
Congressional Oversight and Veto of Presidential Sanctions Authority
On July 25, Senator Cardin introduced Senate Bill 3275, a “bill to amend the Russia Sanctions Review Act of 2017 to ensure appropriate congressional review and the continued applicability of sanctions under the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012.” Introduced in response to the Helsinki “summit” between the U.S. and Russian presidents, the bill would require the President to report to Congress any proposals to: (1) terminate sanctions, (2) waive sanctions previously imposed on a person, or (3) authorize otherwise sanctionable conduct by licensing if such action “significantly alters” U.S. foreign policy with regard to Russia.
Legal Mechanics: Amendment to Russia Sanctions Review Act
Senate Bill 3275 would achieve its stated ends by amending the Russia Sanctions Review Act of 2017 (the “RSA“), which was enacted as Part I of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 (CAASTA). The RSA limits the President’s ability to enforce– or not enforce– sanctions measures against or related to Russia under these enumerated laws and actions:
- certain Obama-era Executive orders promulgating sanctions against Russia (as explained here);
- the Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democracy, and Economic Stability of Ukraine Act of 2014;
- the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014; and,
- the prohibition of access to Russian Federation properties in Maryland and New York ordered ordered shuttered by President Obama in December 2016.
Senate Bill 3275 would amend the RSA by adding the Magnitsky Act to the above list of laws and thereby limit the President’s scope of authority to terminate or alter sanctions under the Magnitsky Act by, inter alia, requiring him (or her) to submit to Congress reports of such actions and prohibit any proposed Presidential actions if Congress adopts a “joint resolution of disapproval.”
Congressional Activism on Sanctions
The introduction of legislation after the Helskin summit to constrain the President’s sanctions authority vis-a-vis Russia is not surprising. As anticipated in this MassPoint post of July 18, “the Helsinki meeting could have legal consequences, should Congress move to insert itself, beyond its standard law-making and oversight role, in sanctions and trade matters,” including in the mold of CAASTA.
Potential for White House Push Back
If Senate Bill 3275 or similar measures are passed by Congress, they may be met with resistance from the White House. As discussed in this MassPoint analysis of an earlier Congressional proposal to limit the President’s power to lift sanctions on ZTE, the President’s CAASTA signing statement characterized the law as an unconstitutional encroachment on the President’s power to conduct foreign affairs, and purported to sign the measure into law in the interest of “national unity.”
To the extent that the White House had or has plans to oppose Congress’ insertion of itself into sanctions enforcement, CAASTA– which passed 98-1 in the Senate and 419-3 in the House–did not present a winnable opportunity. Time and the political climate will tell if Senate Bill 3275 or similar measures become law, with or without real challenge by the White House.
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