Congressional Roundup: Rounds targets Russian assets for Ukraine

Johnson testifies on Wounded Knee bill; Thune works against student loan relief

By: - June 10, 2023 1:00 pm
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, speaks with Roger Zakheim, the director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, before a hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Capitol Hill on Feb. 15, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, speaks with Roger Zakheim, the director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, before a hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Capitol Hill on Feb. 15, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The U.S. Department of Justice could transfer more forfeited Russian assets to Ukraine if a bill introduced by South Dakota’s Mike Rounds and other senators becomes law.

Rounds introduced the bill Friday with a fellow Republican and two Democrats.

“It is critical Ukraine is able to protect their country against Russia’s unjustified and illegal invasion,” Rounds said in a news release. “By providing Ukraine with the necessary tools to defend themselves, we are helping to defend democracy.”

Congressional Roundup

This is the latest installment in a series of periodic updates on the activities of South Dakota’s congressional delegation.

Currently, Rounds said, the department may only transfer assets to Ukraine that are forfeited from violations of select Russia-related sanctions. The first and only use of that authority came in February, when Attorney General Merrick Garland authorized a transfer of $5.4 million forfeited from a sanctioned Russian oligarch. 

The new legislation is the Transferring Illicit Assets to Ukraine Act. It would allow the Justice Department to transfer assets forfeited from violations of a wider range of economic countermeasures, and require reports from several federal departments on their use of the expanded authority.

Rounds’ position on Ukraine contrasts with that of his fellow Republican, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who said in March that U.S. aid to Ukraine is a strategic mistake.

“This should be Europe’s fight, not ours,” Noem said at the time. “We should not waste taxpayer dollars at the risk of nuclear war.”

Johnson testifies on behalf of Wounded Knee bill

A House subcommittee heard testimony Wednesday on a bill from Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-South Dakota, that would protect land at the Wounded Knee Massacre site on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

“We have an obligation to acknowledge our nation’s mistakes and to work with Indian nations to right the wrongs of history,” Johnson said.

He noted that Congress passed a resolution in 1990 expressing “deep regret” for the 1890 massacre. He did not mention that about 20 soldiers were awarded Medals of Honor for their participation in the massacre and events immediately following it, or that those medals have never been rescinded. Members of Congress from other states have attempted to rescind the medals without support from Johnson or other members of South Dakota’s congressional delegation.

Johnson’s bill is the Wounded Knee Massacre Memorial and Sacred Site Act. It deals with 40 acres at the massacre site purchased by the Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes in 2022. Johnson said the land, which was formerly in private ownership, “is believed to be the killing field.” 

The bill would place the land in “restricted fee status.” That differs from other forms of tribal land ownership, including “trust status,” in which the federal government holds land in trust for tribes. Restricted fee status puts ownership directly in tribal hands with a restriction against selling or transferring the land.

The massacre occurred on Dec. 29, 1890, when a force of nearly 500 U.S. soldiers took positions around approximately 350 Miniconjou Lakota people. Soldiers struggled with a man in the camp who refused to give up his gun, it fired into the sky, and chaotic shooting ensued. Fewer than 40 soldiers were killed (some by friendly fire, according to historians), while Native American deaths have been estimated at 200 or 300 or more, depending on the source. 

Thune works against student loan relief

Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, and other Republican senators sent a letter Wednesday to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona urging him to abandon “misguided, unfair and fiscally irresponsible” student loan forgiveness efforts. 

The letter said Cardona should instead focus on preparing borrowers and loan servicers to resume student loan repayments. The letter also requested information about how much staff time and taxpayer money has gone toward setting up and carrying out the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness plan. The plan includes one-time cancellation of up to $20,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers who qualify. 

Earlier this month, Thune and Rounds voted in support of a Senate resolution to overturn the plan. 

“It’s something of a slap in the face to Americans who chose more affordable college options or worked their way through school to avoid taking loans, or whose parents scrimped and saved to put them through college,” Thune said during Senate debate on the measure.

The resolution went to President Joe Biden, who vetoed it Wednesday and issued a statement.

“It is a shame for working families across the country that lawmakers continue to pursue this unprecedented attempt to deny critical relief to millions of their own constituents,” the statement said.



Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.