Republicans block Russia trade sanctions & 7 nominees critical to Ukraine war aid

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Rand Paul

Republicans are eager to appear tough on Russia, hoping to build on widespread American opposition to the war in Ukraine (and bury their past antipathy to the besieged country). The party’s pivot has met a formidable pothole: GOP Sen. Rand Paul.

The Kentucky senator has held up a bill to suspend normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus, passed by the House over two weeks ago.

  • House Republicans Andy Biggs (AZ), Dan Bishop (NC), Lauren Boebert (CO), Matt Gaetz (FL), Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA), Glenn Grothman (WI), Thomas Massie (KY), and Chip Roy (TX) voted against the bill.

Paul’s opposition centers around the bill’s definition of human-rights abuses under the Global Magnitsky Act, which he feels is too vague. “If you don’t define what human-rights abuses are, you set up something so wide open that you could have abuse of a president who’s allowed to sanction anyone in the world for anything they feel like,” Paul said.

Moving the bill forward quickly requires unanimous consent, meaning any one senator can object and force the Majority Leader to sacrifice precious floor time to advance the bill. This would likely result in the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson being delayed until after the Senate’s spring break.

“We won’t let them pass it unless they put [my amendment] in there,” Paul declared. “So they’re either going to put it in there or they’re going to be here for a week doing it. Because I won’t let it go without the amendment in it. It has to be the body of it.”

It is likely the Senate will capitulate to Paul’s demands in order to pass the trade bill this week.


Just as a reminder of Rand Paul’s relationship with Russia: In 2018 Paul traveled to Moscow, met with sanctioned Russian officials, and delivered a letter from former president Trump to President Putin. Then, last year, former Paul aide Jesse Benton was indicted for funneling tens of thousands of dollars from a Russian national to Trump prior to the 2016 election.


With the unprecedented surge of weapons and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, it is imperative that government posts in charge of oversight and coordination are staffed by qualified individuals. Yet, Republican lawmakers are opposing the confirmation of seven individuals to positions that are crucial in aiding Ukraine and curbing Russian aggression.

Chief among them, Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), who placed a hold on three State Department nominees last Wednesday due to an unrelated matter: Scott wants Biden to lift the legal immunity of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) so Cuban doctors can sue the entity. Lawmakers of both parties agree that PAHO assisted the Cuban government’s forced labor schemes, but only Republicans are willing to punish Ukraine in order to achieve their goal.

The nominees blocked by Scott include: James O’Brien, nominated for a new position as the State Department’s sanctions coordinator; C.S. Eliot Kang, the nominee for assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation; and Julieta Valls Noyes, the nominee for assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.

Scott is also objecting to the confirmation of Laura Holgate to be ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a critically important role given Russia’s recklessness in and around Ukrainian nuclear power plants.

“We need an ambassador to draw attention to the danger of Russian forces, especially holding Ukraine’s nuclear operations at gunpoint,” [Sen. Ed Markey] said after Scott’s objection. “We need an ambassador to demand Russia accept the IAEA offer to establish a presence in Ukraine to ensure the continued safe operation of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities.”

Scott’s hold, he added, is “partisan politicization of nuclear proliferation of nuclear safety at a time where we’re seeing a peril that we have not seen in 50 years in the United States or the planet.”

Separately, Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS) blocked the confirmation of Erin Magee, Biden’s pick to be deputy administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, with responsibility for Europe and Eurasia. According to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, Marshall’s objection is related to his “crusade to get to the bottom of COVID-19’s origins.”

  • Other nominees currently blockaded by Republican opposition: Mallory Stewart, who was first nominated for assistant secretary for arms control in early July 2021, and Sarah Margon, a former human rights advocate nominated as assistant secretary for democracy, human rights, and labor