Washington Weekly: Russia, Ukraine and the US

U.S. Office of Public Policy, 08 April 2022

8 min read

This Week:

The Senate confirmed the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to serve on the Supreme Court and passed legislation that would update a World War II-era “lend-lease” program to allow President Biden to more easily send weapons and other critical supplies to Ukraine. The House passed a bill that would direct the US government to collect evidence of Russian war crimes (see below) and a bill that would provide assistance to restaurants and small businesses that didn’t receive relief from previous Covid aid packages.

Next Week:

Both the Senate and House will be out of session until April 18.

The Leads

Russia, Ukraine and the US.

Both the Biden administration and Congress took new actions against Russia this week. The administration imposed new sanctions on additional Russian entities (including more banks) and individuals connected to the Russian government. In response to some of the gruesome scenes witnessed this week in areas outside of Kiev (including mass civilian graves and corpses in the streets), the House also passed bipartisan legislation to direct the US government to assist in international efforts to collect evidence of alleged Russian war crimes that could support a trial before the International Criminal Court. The Senate likely will pass this bill in the coming months. The US and its allies continue to exert significant pressure on Russia. However, in Washington and in European capitals, there will continue to be debate about whether this has been enough and whether meaningful additional steps (e.g. more military assistance from the US and/or a ban on all Russian energy imports by European countries) can be taken.

Covid Funding.

Last weekend, a group of Senators crafted a bipartisan agreement to provide $10 billion in new Covid-related funding for new testing, vaccinations and preparation for new variants. However, that deal was sidetracked this week over a disagreement on an immigration issue. Senate Republicans want to have a vote on an amendment that would block the Biden administration from reversing an existing policy that prevents migrants from seeking asylum in the US (these asylum seekers can still make their request for asylum outside of the US). That policy originally was put in place for Covid-related reasons, and the administration recently announced it would be lifting the restriction next month. This dilemma will have to be resolved before the Covid bill can move forward. We expect both (the immigration amendment and the Covid bill) to receive votes in May and think both have a good chance of passing.

Other Issues

Inflation Fighters.

Democrats’ legislative options to address concerns about inflation are becoming clearer. The House passed a bill last week that would lower the cost of insulin. The Senate likely will vote in May on that bill. We anticipate its prospects for passage will be complicated by efforts to expand the bill’s scope. Given opposition from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), a proposed federal gas tax holiday, which would lower the cost of gas at the pump by 18.4 cents per gallon, is unlikely to receive a vote anytime soon. A tax on the oil and gas industry is more likely to be considered next month. Both the House and Senate held hearings on high energy prices this week. The House hearing featured testimony from six top oil and gas company CEOs and familiar accusations from Democrats about price gouging and excess profits. Although none of these bills are likely to pass the Senate where the support of at least 10 Republicans would be needed, Democrats hope voters give them credit for addressing the issue.

International Tax Agreement.

There has been growing public attention toward Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s ongoing negotiations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on an international tax agreement. The agreement would try to establish a uniform minimum tax threshold for businesses in order to prevent what the Biden administration believes is “a race to the bottom,” whereby countries lower their taxes as a means to attract business from other countries. However, international companies and lawmakers in both parties have concerns that the minimum tax would encroach on US sovereignty since it could allow foreign countries to get more tax revenue from US companies because of tax breaks they receive under US law. The pushback has mostly been behind the scenes but has started to spill into the public arena as opposition continues to grow. Given that Congress would have to change some US tax laws to conform to an agreement, lawmakers have leverage to address the adverse impacts of any agreement at the OECD.

China Investment Restrictions.

In 2020, Congress passed legislation that directs the SEC to delist Chinese companies from US exchanges that fail to comply with applicable US listing requirements over a three-year period. This action by Congress reflected longstanding concerns about US regulators’ access to audits of Chinese companies listed in the US. US regulators have since been implementing the law and negotiating with their counterparts in China on a possible agreement. While Chinese regulators recently issued a proposal that would allow inspections by US regulators, it is subject to certain approvals and conditions that could be problematic from a US perspective. Further complicating matters, Congress is still considering a bill that would accelerate the timeline for de-listing to next year by shortening the review period from three to two years. In short, although there has been some progress in getting to a resolution on this issue, the risk of delisting remains, particularly with the broader backdrop of geopolitical tensions between the US and China.

Biden Trade Agenda.

Frustration has been mounting in the US business community, and even among many lawmakers, over the slow development of trade policy in the Biden administration. Aside from stating the difficulties and purchase failures in the Phase 1 trade agreement negotiated with China in 2020, there has been little action from the administration over how it plans to address a wide range of pending trade challenges. Complicating all of this is the focus on global supply chain instability, increased domestic manufacturing and a greater desire to trade more with countries aligned with US national security interests, which suggests a reduction in trade with China and a handful of other countries. Committees in both the House and Senate held hearings last week with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai over the administration’s trade priorities for the year, and many lawmakers from both sides of the aisle questioned whether the administration’s trade agenda lacked ambition. Among the issues raised was the lack of pursuit from the administration for new free trade agreements and greater market access, such as with the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and the United Kingdom. Many lawmakers criticized the IPEF as too limited and not providing sufficient market access as with typical free trade agreements. All of this leaves many multi-national companies uncertain about how reliable trade will be as a part of their business models and whether some larger markets will need to be abandoned.

Southwest Border.

While other issues have overshadowed it over the last few months, the surge in illegal migration at the southwest border is starting to attract more media and public attention. At issue now is the Biden administration’s rescindment of “Title 42,” a policy crafted in the previous administration designed to keep asylum-seeking migrants out of the US due to Covid and other health considerations. That policy was put in place to limit the large numbers of migrants who entered the US seeking asylum due to public health concerns at the time. Removal of the restriction would return to the practice of allowing migrants to seek asylum in the US. Perhaps the issue is getting more attention because some border-state Democratic Senators, including Arizona Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, have asked the Biden administration to maintain Title 42 as a way of curtailing the ongoing surge at the southwest border. As noted above in our report on Covid funding, the Senate will vote on this policy in the upcoming month and it will likely have significant political ramifications to Democrats representing border areas.

The Last Word


Earlier this week, two incumbent Republican House members, Congressmen Fred Upton (R-MI) and Bob Gibbs (R-OH), announced they would not be seeking re-election this year. Following redistricting, each faced a primary opponent who has been endorsed by former President Trump. Upton is one of the ten House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last year. All ten have become top targets for the former president. So far, four have announced they are not seeking re-election. Another five will have competitive primary elections. Other races will also test Trump’s influence. The former president has endorsed candidates in 130 elections this cycle, ranging from statewide to local. Many of the candidates he has endorsed will have primaries over the next few months. These include his choices in higher profile races in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina where voting will occur in May and June. How these candidates fare in competitive primary elections over the next few months could be an important barometer in determining whether Trump is still the kingmaker of the Republican party or whether his grip on the party has loosened. His success in these contests will serve as an early test for the 2024 Republican presidential primary election and will factor into other potential candidates’ decisions on whether to run against Trump or not.