Last summer the Congress passed a bill called the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). This bill concluded that Russia had meddled in our 2016 election and it directed the President and the Treasury Department to enact sanctions within 180 days of the passage of the bill upon Russian oligarchs who are close to the Kremlin. With all of the wrangling and disharmony over Russia’s role in the 2016 election that we have all observed since last summer, it is shocking to see that CAATSA passed the Congress nearly unanimously, with only five of our 500-plus legislators voting against it. That wasn’t just a veto-proof margin, that was a true example of the bipartisanship possible in Congress with an issue supported by incontrovertible evidence. The President signed the bill into law in early August.
As the 180 day period elapsed, no sanctions were put into place. Instead, the Treasury Department released a list of 96 oligarchs and Russian businesses that they were putting on notice, claiming that the mere threat of a sanction was enough to act as a deterrent. The Washington Post swiftly reported that this list of 96 was simply cut-and-pasted from a Forbes list of that same number of Russians billionaires. This sloppy example of minimum effort on the part of the Treasury Department was a slap in the face of the legislative branch. To date, the CAATSA-directed sanctions have not been implemented.
In response to the president’s insult to the entire Congress, on January 30th our own Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, partnered with a Democratic colleague on the Ukraine Caucus, Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, to issue a joint statement. They expressed their disappointment in the President’s decision, underlined the importance of the sanctions, and closed with this directive: “Words alone are not enough. We urge our colleagues in Congress to recommit in holding Russia accountable and call on the Administration to sanction the Russian oligarchs.”
On March 8th, a bill was introduced in the House that would recommit Congress to the cause of holding Russians accountable. It does call on the Administration to impose sanctions on Russian oligarchs. Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA) introduced the DISARM Act (Directing Implementation of Sanctions and Accountability for Russian Mischief). Over 70 Representatives have signed on to co-sponsor this legislation, including Republican Representative and Fitzpatrick’s fellow Problem Solver Caucus-member Leonard Lance of New Jersey. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, the co-author of the joint statement mentioned above has also signed on. So where is our own Rep. Fitzpatrick?
One cannot read our Representative’s mind in this matter, but one can ask questions. Does Rep. Fitzpatrick merely like the appearance of bipartisanship inherent in a joint statement? Are there not enough Republicans co-sponsors to the DISARM Act to provide adequate cover for him to join on as well? Is our “Independent Voice” feeling pressure from his GOP party leadership? Does he not want to call out the Administration and alienate his Trump-supporting Republican base with a primary just around the corner?
One thing is certain – Rep. Fitzpatrick’s bold statement on pushing the Administration to implement the Russian sanctions was NOT followed up by courageous action. He is all talk, and no follow-through.
Kierstyn P. Zolfo, Newtown