Russia sanctions deal clears key Senate hurdle

Russia sanctions deal clears key Senate hurdle
© Getty

The Senate easily voted Wednesday to advance a bipartisan agreement to slap new financial penalties on Russia and let Congress weigh in before President Trump can lift sanctions. 

Senators voted 97-2 to attach the deal to an Iran sanctions bill currently being debated on the Senate floor. Republican Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulMichael Steele: Congress must lead on cannabis reform and stand with the American public Lawmakers renew call for end to 'black budget' secrecy McCain asks Trump's CIA pick to explain ties to torture MORE (Ky.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeConservatives balk over funding bill ahead of shutdown  Overnight Defense: Senate sides with Trump on military role in Yemen | Dem vets push for new war authorization on Iraq anniversary | General says time isn't 'right' for space corps Senate sides with Trump on providing Saudi military support MORE (Utah) were the only senators to vote against including new Russia penalties in the legislation.

The Senate is expected to pass the Iran and Russia sanctions bill as soon as this week. Absent an agreement, the Senate will take another procedural vote on the legislation on Thursday morning. 

The vote comes after top Republicans held off for months from backing tougher financial penalties in a bid to give the Trump administration space to try to improve the U.S.-Russia relationship, which soured under the Obama administration. 

But top senators have signaled that talks with Russia over Syria, where Moscow supports Syrian President Bashar Assad, were moving too slowly to warrant holding off on new penalties. 

"We must take our own side in this fight. Not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Americans. It's time to respond to Russia's attack on American democracy with strength, with resolve, with common purpose, and with action," Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain asks Trump's CIA pick to explain ties to torture Petraeus: Haspel will explain actions in nomination hearing Afghanistan is our longest war ever and Congress has abandoned all responsibility MORE (R-Ariz.) said ahead of Wednesday's vote. 

The vote comes amid multiple investigations into Russia's interference in the U.S. presidential election and questions about the Trump campaign's possible ties to Moscow. 

Sen. Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoPower struggle threatens to sink bank legislation Overnight Regulation: FDA rule to limit nicotine in cigarettes moves forward | Court tosses Obama financial adviser rule | House GOP threatens to hold up Senate Dodd-Frank rollback Overnight Finance: House threatens to freeze Senate Dodd-Frank rollback | New Russia sanctions | Trump vs. Trudeau on trade | Court tosses Obama financial adviser rule MORE (R-Idaho), the chairman of the Banking Committee, praised the agreement as a "strong bipartisan measure" that will "result in some very powerful and new sanctions" against Russia.  

The Russia deal would impose new sanctions, including on any individuals tied to "malicious cyber activity," supplying weapons to Assad's government or individuals tied to Russia's intelligence and defense sectors. 

It would also give Congress 30 days — or 60 days around the August recess — to review and potentially block Trump from lifting or relaxing Russia sanctions; codify the sanctions on Russia imposed by executive order by the Obama administration, and allow the Trump administration to impose new sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy.

Senators in both parties pointed to the agreement, and the broader Iran bill, as an example of bipartisanship in a Senate that has been locked in partisan fights for most of the year.  

"I think it sets a good example of how the Senate can still work together to tackle complex and difficult issues," Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump signs massive spending bill, backing away from veto threat The Hill's 12:30 Report Deficit hawks encourage Trump veto of spending bill MORE (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said ahead of the vote. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerFox News host Watters says spending bill was 'huge defeat' for Trump Amtrak to rename Rochester station after Louise Slaughter Conscience protections for health-care providers should be standard MORE (D-N.Y.) also urged support for the deal ahead of the vote, arguing it's as "bipartisan as it gets." 

"Leader [Mitch] McConnell [R-Ky.] and I worked extremely well together on this issue," he said.  

The votes comes after a swath of lawmakers — including Schumer, McConnell, Crapo, McCain, top members on the Senate Banking and Foreign Relations committees and Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBernie Sanders to Trump: Firing Mueller 'an impeachable offense' The Memo: Lawyer’s exit signals harder line by Trump Senators introduced revised version of election cyber bill MORE (R-S.C.) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSenate sides with Trump on providing Saudi military support Companies fretting over ‘foreign agents’ label Senators demand cyber deterrence strategy from Trump MORE (D-N.H.) — were locked in negotiations for roughly a week trying to hash out an agreement. 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had been expected to mark up Russia legislation this month, but Corker and ranking member Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis Cardin Senate Dem hoping Pompeo now has 'greater appreciation' for balancing national security, civil rights Time for the Pentagon to create a system to better track its spending Trump, lawmakers cautious on North Korea signal MORE (D-Md.) pointed to the Iran bill as a faster way to get Russia sanctions through the upper chamber. 

The Trump administration's warmer tone toward Moscow has sparked bipartisan backlash on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are largely skeptical of Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownDemocratic senator: People don’t know what’s going on between Trump and Putin Power struggle threatens to sink bank legislation Pension committee must deliver on retirement promise MORE (D-Ohio), who was involved in the negotiations, said the amendment would send a message to an administration that "has been all over the diplomatic map."  

Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council, said last month that the administration wouldn't weaken Russia sanctions, adding that, "If anything, we could probably look to get tougher." 

Cohn's comments were a clarification of earlier remarks in which he said the president didn't have a position on Russia sanctions. 

The administration has also sparked concern over reports that it could hand back two diplomatic compounds in the United States to Russia. 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned on Wednesday that Congress should not pass any legislation that would undercut "constructive dialogue" with Russia. 

"I would urge Congress to ensure any legislation allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions," he said during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.

Asked about Tillerson's comments, Corker told The Hill that he thought the legislation didn't prevent the administration from lifting sanctions if they are able to make progress with Russia. 

"Obviously this is a very strong piece of legislation and it is forward in its policy, but yes, if progress is made they have the ability to do what they need to do. In certain cases it would require congressional review," he said. 

He added that if he was in Tillerson's position "I would be saying the same thing. ...No administration wants input from legislative branches." 

— This report was updated at 4:06 p.m.