January 17, 2019 / 6:24 PM / 5 months ago

U.S. House backs sanctions on Russia's Rusal in symbolic vote

WASHINGTON, Jan 17 (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday backed legislation to keep sanctions on companies linked to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, including aluminum firm Rusal, but the Trump administration is expected to lift them as soon as Friday.

The Democratic-led House voted by an overwhelming 362 to 53 in favor of a resolution of disapproval of the U.S. Treasury Department’s decision last month to lift sanctions on the core businesses of Deripaska: Rusal, its parent, En+; and power firm EuroSibEnergo Plc.

But the vote was only symbolic, after a similar measure failed in the Republican-led Senate on Wednesday, in a victory for President Donald Trump.

Amid questions about Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, many members of Congress - both Democrats and some of Trump’s fellow Republicans - have been questioning the administration’s plan to water down the toughest penalties imposed on Russian entities since the 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Lawmakers from both parties have said it is inappropriate to ease sanctions on companies tied to Deripaska, a Putin ally, while Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigates whether Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Moscow.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the election to boost Trump. Russia has denied it meddled, and Trump has said there was no collusion.

“We are dealing with the enemy. We are in an investigation,” Representative Maxine Waters, chairwoman of the House Committee on Financial Services, said before the vote as she exhorted House members to support the resolution.

Trump administration officials, and many Republicans who opposed the resolution, said they worried about the impacts of the sanctions on the global aluminum industry and that Deripaska had lowered his stakes in the companies so that he no longer controls them, a sign the sanctions were working.

“Adjusting sanctions on companies that help us punish and isolate Russian bad actors like Oleg Deripaska will encourage more companies to cooperate with America to severely hobble Russia,” Representative Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees trade, said in a statement. Brady opposed the resolution.

Under the administration plan, Deripaska himself would remain under sanction. (Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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