GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R–Grand Rapids) lauds the crippling economic sanctions levied on Russia by U.S. and NATO allies, but says more can be done to maintain support to Ukraine and punish Russian President Vladimir Putin and the country's oligarchs.
We talked with Meijer Wednesday, just after he sent a letter to the Biden administration asking them to help craft legislation that would allow the seizure and selling of assets belong to Russian oligarchs to help financially support the rebuild in Ukraine.
First thing I want to ask you about is this congressional push to suspend energy imports from Russia. How does this differ from the executive action the president took? Why is this a necessary step and what exactly would it do?
U.S Rep. Peter Meijer:
"What we're talking about here is HR 6968. It's the Suspending Energy Imports from Russia Act. This bill has been in negotiation for a couple of days, and it's been a bit of a back and forth with the White House. Obviously, the President made his announcement but there's additional legislative steps that are required to shut off and make it illegal any energy imports from Russia to the United States, you know, there's some flexibility here, there's a 45 day period, because if something is loaded onto a ship tomorrow, and the bill passes, and it's already in route, it's already been paid for, you know, so there's about a 45 day grace period there. But the goal is so that additional dollars are not flowing to Vladimir Putin, and oftentimes to the tune of tens of millions a day, but those dollars are not flowing to him, to better allow him to continue to attack the right the Ukrainian people. And again, when it comes to sanctions, there are things that the executive can do by themselves just with the authorities that a president already has. And then there are other components that require legislative backstop, where that line is on any given area can sometimes be a little bit gray. So we want to make sure that we are not only bolstering what the President is doing, but also creating a firm measure of congressional support, but also more importantly, making it harder for the President to change their mind. As things go, that if there's going to be a modification of something Congress has passed, it's written into law. And then we have the ability to waive or to reevaluate as things continue.”
I want to talk about some of the steps the U.S. has taken already, whether that's the economic sanctions, and then now obviously, this push to stop importing oil from Russia; you know, what else can be done? And what else should be done?
"One thing that I was, frankly frustrated got removed from the sanctions bill that I expect will contemplate today. It's a little bit of a back and forth right now. But we're waiting to see what legislation the Democratic majority puts forward. But at least from my understanding is that the White House insisted and Democrats complied with stripping provisions that would have removed the most favored nation status from both Belarus and Russia. And this is a some flexibility and some beneficial treatment on the trade side, that the Ukrainians had asked us to strip from Belarus and Russia, and that we had put into that initial legislation, and that was removed at the White House side. So that's another thing we need to do on the most favored nation side, we also need to continue and step up our efforts to seize or at least investigate and where possible, seize the assets of the Russian oligarchs, those who have profited from the Putin regime, those who are continuing to support and enable the violence that Vladimir Putin is unleashing on Ukraine. So we've been working with the Biden administration to expand some of those areas, when it comes to the Russian Duma. That's their legislature, we led an effort to get that expanded not just to folks who originally authorized the independence, independence recognition for Donetsk and Luhansk, those areas of Donbas that precipitated this, but to apply that to the entirety of the Russian legislature, and then also focusing on going beyond the yachts, which we obviously want to seize their yachts, but also when it comes to luxury penthouses that may be in the U.S. or maybe in other jurisdictions, making it so that those who are continuing to assault and attack the international system do not benefit from the privileges of it."
How does the U.S. have the authority to do that? Say one of these oligarchs has a 100-foot yacht parked somewhere. How do we have the ability to seize that and then talk to me about the bill you want to see done; where you could actually use that money to give back to Ukraine?
“That's one area that we're working with the administration on, because again, it can be a fine line between what requires a legislative initiative and what the President could do on the president's own authority. But I think it's important that those seized assets get set aside and are used to help rebuild Ukraine. I think we've all seen that incredible devastation, that just the hospital bombing in Mariupol, a city that I visited seven years ago, when it was still close to the frontlines, and now it's obviously a city under siege. I think it's important that those seized assets go to the people of Ukraine to help correct this grievous and violent error. There can be some of those authorities exists under what's called the Magnitsky Act. This was an act that was passed I believe, in 2014. Sara de Magnum He was a Russian lawyer who had defended an American businessman named Bill Browder. And that Magnitsky ended up being arrested by the Russians, beaten and ultimately died in jail from, from wounds that were sustained. And so as a result, there was a legislative initiative in the United States Congress, so that those who were perpetrating such egregious violations of human rights, that they could have their assets taken as an incentive for folks to obey the rule of law and not commit such heinous crimes. So there's been efforts to expand that Magnitsky Act so that we can use those authorities. But the President also has pretty wide latitude, especially when it comes to a non U.S. citizen, or a non U.S. person. And those assets, especially if they've been connected into, you know, a criminal network or other components. So, you know, that question of those authorities is something we're continuing to look at and support. In addition, some of the properties that were purchased by these oligarchs in the U.S. are under shell companies that may have multiple layers of insulation. So proving and identifying the beneficial ownership there will take some time. But that's another step that we need to take, we've seen a very swift implementation of a large number of sanctions. And I think that it's been a resoundingly positive effort. And frankly, probably not what Putin was expecting in terms of unity from the European Union, and from NATO, and also from the US kind of leaving a little bit from behind on some of those but still kind of bringing a lot of those sanctions to the table. Now, as we're looking at the last five or 10%, of what we can do, it's a little bit harder, it's a little bit slower going, it's a little bit more unprecedented. But making sure that that economic isolation is as complete as possible, so that Putin learns the lesson here, and that hopefully, we get to a point where those forces back down, that they retreat from Ukraine. And then most importantly, we're able to continue to provide and rebuild the Ukrainian state that Vladimir Putin has decimated.
The underlying thing of all this is obviously energy. And we've seen Republicans, you know, call for America to strive for energy independence again, and start producing more here at home. Where do you stand on that? Do you think that's an important step? And I want to get your take on the Biden administration visiting places like Venezuela...
I've been pretty unsparing with my criticism. I think the Biden administration is looking for an easy way out here that doesn't force them to reevaluate many of their, in my view, misguided domestic policies. And that's why you've seen them approaching the Venezuelans where they've been approaching the Iranians and trying to use the new nuclear negotiations that I also think are very misguided as a way of uncorking some additional oil supplies and natural gas supplies on the global market. The simple answer here is that the Biden administration needs to reverse course, on their hostility towards American energy production, like we've seen very clearly that achieving energy independence is a national security issue. Some of our NATO allies like Germany that had hitched their star to natural gas coming from Russia. I'm sure many folks are familiar with Nord Stream 2. But there was a Nord Stream 1 that's supplying, I think, 30% of Germany's natural gas coming from Russia that they have control over. So giving that sort of leverage to a foreign power is very challenging. And when I talk about reversing course, ceasing the inherent hostility, the slow rolling of permitting, the difficulties and the roadblocks being thrown in the face of American energy producers, I am a strong proponent of expanding renewable energy. But we have to be clear and honest with the American people that we will need on demand energy generation, we can maximize the utilization of solar, of wind of other renewables, we will need something when the sun isn't shining, wind is blowing, nuclear is a great, you know, low to no carbon option there, as is a slightly higher carbon output. But natural gas and the expansion of natural gas and the retirement of coal plants is why we saw a net reduction in carbon output in the U.S. in the mid 2010s. So that is a tremendous opportunity to be producing at home to be employing Americans to be ensuring that those profits those proceeds, they stay in the US are reinvested. And the Biden administration needs to signal a greater openness and a Franklin end to this war on domestic energy production they've been waging through the courts and through an overly burdensome regulatory environment.
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