House passes measure encouraging Biden to seize Russian assets to fund Ukraine aid

House passes measure encouraging Biden to seize Russian assets to fund Ukraine aid

The House passed Wednesday a measure encouraging President Biden to tap the proceeds from assets seized from Russian oligarchs to provide aid to Ukraine.

The bill, which was introduced in the House by Reps. Tom Malinowski, New Jersey Democrat, and Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican, passed 417-8 and now proceeds to the Senate.

“It is hard to imagine giving Russia’s wealth back to Putin while Ukraine lies in ruin and Ukrainians are burying their dead,” Mr. Malinowski said. “Under these extraordinary circumstances, the international community should be prepared to use Russia’s frozen assets to rebuild the country Russia is destroying.”

The measure provides a “Sense of Congress” that encourages the president to seize property valued at more than $2 million from Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the U.S. for their involvement in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The measure further urges the president to fund military and humanitarian assistance and post-conflict reconstruction in Ukraine.

The bill also directs the president to establish an interagency working group led by the State Department to “determine the constitutional mechanism through which the president can take steps to seize and confiscate” the assets in question and to provide a report to Congress within 60 days of the steps taken by the working group.

Despite the bipartisan support for the measure in Congress, the initial drafts of the bill received early pushback from the American Civil Liberties Union, which said the asset seizures could violate the Constitution’s due-process protections.

Lawmakers later walked back the original version, which gave the president additional powers, and settled instead on a “Sense of Congress” resolution.

Lawmakers also added additional guardrails to the final bill including the interagency working group to review the constitutionality of the proposed seizures.

Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut have joined Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Roger F. Wicker of Mississippi to introduce a similar measure in the Senate.

European countries are also grappling with a Polish proposal for the EU to enact new asset seizure powers that would allow the seizure and liquidation of Russian assets to fund Ukraine’s reconstruction.

The European proposal would apply to the assets of Russian oligarchs that have been sanctioned by the EU, as well as the Russian central bank reserves that have been frozen in response to the Kremlin’s invasion.

“It is long past time that Putin’s cronies, who have amassed wealth on the backs of the Russian people, pay for their complicit role in Putin’s crimes against humanity,” Mr. Wilson said. “There is no better use for the liquidated, ill-gotten wealth than rebuilding and humanitarian efforts in democratic Ukraine. I can only hope that its passage today represents some semblance of justice for the people of Ukraine.”