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Senate effort to block Russia sanctions relief comes up short

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks to the media as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., look on after a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer came up just short in his effort to get legislation through the Senate blocking the Treasury Department from easing sanctions on a trio of Russian companies.

Less than 24 hours after securing 57 votes to support a motion to proceed to the joint resolution disapproving of Treasury’s move to lift sanctions on three Russian firms that have been controlled by sanctioned oligarch Oleg Deripaska, the same number of senators voted to limit debate — but that was three short of the 60 needed to cut off debate and get the measure to a final passage vote.

Schumer, D-N.Y., had been bullish Tuesday night about his chances of getting 60 votes.

“I know that there were a whole bunch of Republicans who wanted to vote yes and (Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) and some of his leadership put a lot of pressure on them to vote no,” Schumer said on MSNBC. “But now that I think they have seen that 11 others have voted this way, yes, I think we have a real shot.”

The 11 Republicans who crossed over to support the motion to proceed came from multiple wings of the GOP majority, from foreign policy hawks like Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and members of the moderate wing like Maine Sen. Susan Collins.

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McConnell argued Wednesday morning that by calling up the Russia sanctions measure, Schumer and the Democrats were demonstrating that they were not really prepared to block all Senate legislative activity until the end of the partial government shutdown.

Democrats have thus far blocked limiting debate on multiple motions to proceed to a package of Middle East policy bills that were held over from 2018, including security assistance for Israel and additional Syria-related sanctions.

“You see, the administration isn’t opposed to these bipartisan, urgent bills to back Israel, Jordan, and the Syrian people. President Trump, we expect, would sign these bills. We might actually make a law, here, which is what the people sent us here to do, presumably,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “So naturally, the Democratic leader isn’t interested. Democrats in Congress don’t think working with the president to accomplish things suits their political brand these days.

“But the Democratic leader’s new resolution, that he’s been happy to prioritize ahead of Israel and the Syrian people? It offers him a chance to make a political splash.”

Thursday is the statutory deadline for action to block the sanctions relief, which Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said was the result of careful negotiations involving career federal officials that brought the three companies (En+ Group plc, UC Rusal plc and JSC EuroSibEnergo) into compliance with the sanctions law by reducing the ownership stake of Deripaska.

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