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House Votes to Suspend Normal Trade Relations With Russia


WASHINGTON — The House voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to strip Russia of its preferential trade status with the United States, moving to further penalize the country’s economy in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

The lopsided 424-to-8 vote came after President Biden announced last week that the United States and its European allies would take new steps to isolate Russia from the global trading system. All of the lawmakers who opposed the measure were Republicans.

The bill, which would allow the United States to impose higher tariffs on Russian goods, is the latest in a series of measures that lawmakers have approved to support Ukraine and punish Russia for its invasion. Others include a ban on Russian oil and gas products and a $13.6 billion military and humanitarian aid package.

The trade measure still needs Senate approval. Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said he would work to move it through the chamber quickly.

The House vote came a day after President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine delivered a searing speech to Congress via video link in which he urged lawmakers to do more to help his country and penalize Russia. His address, as well as a wrenching video he showed of Russian-inflicted carnage in Ukraine, hung heavily over the House floor on Thursday as lawmakers debated the trade bill.

Mr. Zelensky “showed us the absolute horrors that Russia is inflicting on the Ukrainian people in full view of the world,” said Representative Richard E. Neal, Democrat of Massachusetts and the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. “And he pleaded for us to do more. With the legislation that stands before us at this hour, we intend to answer his call.”

Top lawmakers in the House proposed nearly a month ago to strip Russia of its trading status and begin a process to expel the country from the World Trade Organization. But last week, as the House worked to advance the legislation in tandem with a measure to ban the importation of Russian oil and gas products, Democrats stripped out the trade provision at the request of the Biden administration, which sought more time to confer with European allies about the move.

“Folks, I know I’ve occasionally frustrated you,” Mr. Biden said to House Democrats at their retreat in Philadelphia last week. “But more important than us moving when we want to is making sure all of NATO is together — is together. They have different vulnerabilities than we do.”

The move by the United States to strip Russia of its preferential trade status — known as “permanent normal trade relations” — carries symbolic weight, but trade experts have said it would have a limited economic effect compared with other sanctions that have already been imposed.

The legislation passed by the House would also isolate Belarus from the global trading system, in recognition of its role in aiding Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Stripping Russia of its trading status would be the latest in a growing list of economic penalties imposed on the country, whose economy is facing collapse.

The debate in Congress over how to best respond to Russia’s assault on Ukraine has taken on an increasingly bitter partisan tinge, as Republicans have moved to cast the invasion as an outgrowth of what they characterize as Mr. Biden’s shortcomings. Some of that spirit crept into the debate on the trade measure on Thursday, such as when Representative Tom Rice, Republican of South Carolina, criticized the Biden administration for “projecting weakness to Putin and his allies.”

Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, lavished praise on how both parties had worked together in a timely fashion to ban Russian energy products and advance the trade measure. Then he turned to criticizing Mr. Biden for failing to approve new gas drilling licenses at home.

For the most part, though, lawmakers trained their ire on President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Speaking on the House floor, Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused him of committing war crimes against civilians and children, echoing comments made this week by Mr. Biden.

“What Putin is doing in Ukraine — bombing civilians, targeting children — is outside the circle of civilized human behavior,” Ms. Pelosi said. “He is committing war crimes and he must be held accountable.”

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.



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