WASHINGTON -- Ignoring threats of retaliation from Moscow, the House of Representatives passed a long-delayed trade deal with Russia on Friday, adding language aimed at cracking down on human rights abuses.
The agreement, a priority for President Obama and business groups, would permanently normalize trade relations with Russia, allowing the United States to increase ties with a nation that boasts 140 million consumers.
In a rare show of bipartisanship, the House voted 365-43 to approve the bill. It now goes to the Senate, where final passage is expected.
As part of the deal, the House agreed to repeal a 1974 law authored by former Democratic Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson of Washington state that had restricted trade with the former Soviet Union because it wasn't allowing Jews to emigrate.
Supporters said that was no longer an issue and it was time to normalize permanent trade relations with Russia. Currently, trade is allowed on a year-by-year basis if the president certifies that Russia is complying with the 1974 law.
"Today's Russia is not yesterday's Soviet Union," said Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, who's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The House voted to replace the law with the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, named after a 37-year-old tax lawyer who was tortured in a Russian prison after exposing the largest tax fraud in the country's history. The new measure would freeze the assets of any individuals responsible for participating in Magnitsky's detention or of any others responsible for gross violations of human rights against whistleblowers. The vote came on the third anniversary of Magnitsky's death.
It drew a strong rebuke from the Russian government, which said the United States had no business focusing on Russia's human rights record because of its own poor performance in housing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
"We will have to react, and it will be a tough reaction," The Moscow Times quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich as saying ahead of Friday's vote.