GOP Senators Grow Spine Over Russian Sanctions, Just Kidding NOPE
On Tuesday the Senate voted 57-42 to start debate on a resolution opposing the Treasury Department's plan to lift sanctions on companies linked to Russian oligarch/former Paul Manafort sugar daddy Oleg Deripaska, who most likely played a very important role in Russia's ratfucking of the 2016 presidential election. Deripaska is the oligarch that Trump's campaign manager offered secret Trump campaign briefings, in order to somehow "get whole" with him, because he owed Deripaska a shitload of money. (For background, read the very fine Wonkette piece, "Trump Unsanctioning Manafort's Russian Sugar Daddy Is EVEN FUCKEDER Than You Thought!")
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told Rachel Maddow on Tuesday night that he had high hopes that with 11 Republican defecting to the side of goodness and patriotism in the vote to open debate, that maybe they could peel just a couple more Republicans to advance the resolution to a final vote and thus stop Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in their tracks and thwart their plan to un-sanction that asshole's companies.
Sadly, Chuck Schumer was ...
Read and weep, for this is how compromised the GOP is right now by the probable Russian agent in the White House:
Hooray! Eleven Republicans voted with America, and the rest voted with Deripaska and Putin! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!
The list of Republicans who voted on America's side is kind of surprising, in that it runs the gamut of ideology. It wasn't just Cory Gardner and Susan Collins and whomever else is scared shitless they're going to lose in 2020, in other words.
Tom Cotton, you did a vaguely non-terrible thing just this one time! What's THAT about?
So How Fucked Is This?
Pretty fucked! Yesterday, those eleven Republicans above joined Democrats in deciding that maybe the US shouldn't just allow Putin's favorite oligarch to shift some of his ownership stake in his companies to other sanctioned entities -- while still retaining a lot of control -- just so his company RUSAL could re-enter the US aluminum marketplace. Go figure! Somehow they managed to resist Treasury Secretary Mnuchin's manly charms when he convened an emergency meeting to tell them how RUSAL has totally learned its lesson, you guys.
Not for nothing, but if Donald Trump isn't a Russian asset, then what the hell is he doing here? After being dragged kicking and screaming into sanctioning Russian companies for the seizure of Crimea, which is part of Ukraine, Trump immediately set about trying to get Oleg Deripaska's companies off the naughty list. Starting in December, Mnuchin staged a full court press to convince Republican senators that for reals RUSAL put a bunch of Europeans and Americans on its corporate board and Deripaska's hands have been wiped clean of the whole operation, so it's all good, right?
BUT IS IT REALLY? Or did Deripaska just give a giant middle finger to America over Crimea sanctions? Because one of those "friendly Europeans" they just put in charge at RUSAL is a Russophile conspiracy theorist who founded a group called International Association of the Friends of Crimea, to legitimize the Russian invasion and occupation of the peninsula, and to lobby to cancel Western sanctions. The Daily Beast describes Jean-Pierre Thomas as a committed supporter of Putin's Russia:
Thomas has [...] featured heavily on Moscow-funded propaganda TV network RT's international channel in recent months, usually spewing Kremlin talking points. In one interview, he echoed a conspiracy theory suggesting a deadly chemical attack in Syria's Douma last year was carried out by "activists," and not the Moscow-backed Assad regime. In another, he backed Russia's claims it had nothing to do with the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal on British soil, lamenting "Russiaphobia" and saying, "I don't believe one second in this story." He also urged European countries to "decrease sanctions" against Russia, describing them as "unacceptable" in another RT interview last March.
He seems nice! And not at all like a straw man appointed to regain access to western markets while simultaneously telling the West to get bent.
This all put GOP senators in quite a pickle! Lots of them sit on committees with front row seats to the Russian ratfuck show. They know Mueller's got the goods on Russian interference in the 2016 election, and they can see 2020 coming up fast. Protecting Russian oligarchs is never going to be a winning electoral issue. On the other hand, Donald Trump is fucking crazy. If they cross him, he's loony enough to launch a protracted tweet storm and maybe even back a primary challenger against them. Just ask Mark Sanford. So, how would those GOP profiles in courage respond?
After all, Russian sanctions are one of the only issues where Republicans in the Senate have consistently shown a willingness to buck the president. Surely this couldn't be that hard?
Just kidding, it was totally that hard!
Republican senators who voted for the Kremlin said they simply had to vote this way, because the law clearly states that if Deripaska reduced his ownership stakes below 50 percent, and RUSAL does all the other stuff it's supposed to do, then their poor hands are tied. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) explained:
"There is an issue of control as well as ownership. Now eight of the 12 members are Europeans or Americans, each of whom has passed a vetting process by our folks. So it feels as if control has also been ceded," he said.
See, they just don't have a choice. If RUSAL checks all the boxes, American politicians aren't allowed to exercise their discretion because ... reasons! Newly-minted Senator Mitt Romney has reverted to form, telling reporters, "We have no choice but to execute the law as it was written." You can take the capitalist out of Bain, but you can't take the Bain out of the capitalist.
If you're hoping Nancy Pelosi's House of Representatives can fix this, the answer is WOMP WOMP. Speaker Pelosi has already signaled that she knows how to whip her own caucus, and also that Mnuchin is a sad little man who gave a weakass briefing and should not try her patience further, but unfortunately to stop a sanctions plan like this, you need 60 votes in the Senate and half the House.
Enjoy your late Christmas present, Oleg! If you scratch and sniff the card, you'll be able to smell where President Russian Asset marked it for you, with his pee.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.