Key Dem pessimistic Russia sanctions bill gets done before August
© Greg Nash

The top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee expressed pessimism on Tuesday that long-stalled Russia sanctions legislation could get done before lawmakers leave Washington for August.

The bipartisan bill passed in the Senate last month by a 98-2 vote, but it has since been stuck in the House due to multiple procedural problems.

House members at first said the bill violated the constitutional requirement that all measures raising revenue originate in the lower chamber.

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The Senate subsequently approved technical changes by unanimous consent three weeks ago. But House Democrats then objected to a provision that prevents them from forcing a floor vote to block the Trump administration if it tries to lift sanctions.

And on Friday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) suggested that the package, which also slaps sanctions on Iran, include a bill passed by the House earlier this year to sanction North Korea.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs panel, appeared skeptical that the sanctions package could be sent to President Trump’s desk before the House is scheduled to leave for the monthlong August recess at the end of next week.

“I would hope. But every day passes and nothing is getting done, it makes it less and less likely. But that’s not our fault. That’s the Republicans’ fault,” Engel told The Hill.

Engel added that he thinks adding North Korea sanctions will make it harder to resolve the already-complicated talks to move the package.

“It makes no sense to me to have a North Korea sanctions bill thrown into the mix when we apparently can’t even agree on a Russia-Iran sanctions bill,” Engel said.

House Republicans, meanwhile, are blaming Democrats for the standstill.

When asked if a deal could be reached before the recess, a House GOP aide replied it’d depend on whether Democrats drop their hold.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week appeared to open the door to possibly letting go of Democrats’ objections to move the bill forward.

“I want to protect the prerogatives of the minority in the House but weighing the equities, what was more important was passing the Russian-Iran sanctions bill. So we are on board to just proceed,” Pelosi said at a news conference.

But House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was still pushing on Tuesday for the House to simply take up a version of the original Senate-passed bill that he introduced with Pelosi and Engel last week. 

“I’m sure Mr. Putin is very pleased that on the House side bringing up that resolution will be severely restricted,” Hoyer said, who again floated a compromise for either the House majority or minority leader to force a floor vote.

But he didn’t rule out House Democrats potentially supporting a package that includes North Korea sanctions but still only allows the House majority to force a floor vote.

“We'll have to discuss it. I, frankly, think the Senate shares the concern of the fact that only the Speaker could bring a resolution from the table,” Hoyer said.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Corker pressed as reelection challenges mount MORE (R-Tenn.) offered a more optimistic prediction when asked if the bill could be finished by August if North Korea sanctions are added.

"I think we could, especially with a potential gap based on that's happened. I was concerned with North Korea being added, not because of necessarily the policy, but just worried about having floor time. Now it appears there could be a gap and we could make it up," Corker told reporters. 

– Mike Lillis and Rebecca Kheel contributed

Updated: 4:50 p.m.