By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Congress’ work on legislation to address the crisis in Ukraine — a three-week ordeal that included no shortage of partisan wrangling — appears to be nearing a conclusion.
Both the Senate and the House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to approve separate bills to impose sanctions on Russia for its incursion into Crimea and offer $1 billion in aid for Ukraine’s fledgling interim government.
Reconciling differences between each chamber’s approach — often a complicated process, particularly in recent years — is expected to be swift and would give President Barack Obama a chance to sign the package into law this weekend.
The House voted 399-19 on its stand-alone sanctions bill, just as the Senate was voting 98-2 to advance a bill that essentially combines that sanctions legislation with a separate House-passed measure making loan guarantees for Ukraine.
The Senate’s vote removed what had been a contentious provision to approve International Monetary Fund reforms sought by the Obama administration. Republicans had argued that the changes were unrelated to Ukraine and unnecessarily delaying what should have been an immediate and forceful response by Congress to Russia’s military incursion.
Both parties celebrated Thursday’s action.
“We responded very loudly today, not only in support of the Ukraine financially, but also in the series of sanctions,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ), told reporters. “Not only is Putin watching, but the world is watching as well. And I think we’ve sent a very clear message to others in the world that there are real consequences for the violation of international law.”
“We have provided the president additional tools to punish Vladimir Putin, his cronies, and the institutions that support them,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH), said in a statement. “I urge the president to utilize all of the resources at his disposal, including re-evaluating security assistance to Ukraine and NATO allies and expanding America’s vast energy supplies, to further undercut Russia’s stranglehold on Europe.”
Menendez said the House will probably take up the Senate-passed bill, with approval possible by a voice vote before week’s end, according to congressional aides. The Senate will consider a provision favored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), to support independent broadcasting in Ukraine to counter Russian propaganda, which had not been included in the original Senate bill.
Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT