President Obama has been decrying “the way Congress does its business these days” and promising to act “with or without this Congress,” so fed up is he by the lack of bipartisan solutions coming from the legislative branch. So the president, one would think, would be delighted that Congress has come together to produce a bipartisan, popular bill that would also give the president a strong foreign policy move while simultaneously beefing up his credentials on human rights and democracy.
I’m talking, of course, about the “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011,” a bill that would sanction Russian human rights offenders. It is named after the Russian attorney who was detained without trial for investigating Russian corruption and then beaten and left to die in prison. It is intended to replace the Cold War-era Jackson-Vanik amendment, aimed at getting the Soviet Union to allow Jewish emigration, but which is outdated and will likely be repealed now that Russia is joining the World Trade Organization. The bill was introduced by Democratic Senator Ben Cardin and has broad bipartisan support. But Obama staunchly opposes the bill. Today, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera adds his voice to the growing chorus of commentators, both liberal and conservative, who support the bill:
I have to confess that when I first began receiving press releases about this effort, which has gained traction in Europe as well as the U.S., I didn’t take it very seriously. Visa restrictions didn’t seem like much of a price for allowing an innocent lawyer to die in prison. But after watching the reaction of the Russian government, which has repeatedly and vehemently denounced the bill — and which is now, out of pure spite, prosecuting Magnitsky posthumously — I’ve come to see that it really does hit these officials where it hurts them most.