Russia sanctions bill stalled amid Trump Jr. emails
Bipartisan sanctions legislation targeting the Kremlin remain stalled on Tuesday amid the revelation of emails between Donald Trump Jr. and an intermediary purporting to offer help from Russia during the 2016 campaign.
House Democrats are objecting to a portion of proposed changes to the bill that would make it harder for the minority to force votes on the Trump administration’s sanctions policy.
House GOP leadership requested the provision, which limits the power to bring up a resolution for a floor vote regarding sanctions policy to the majority.
With House members still traveling back to Washington on Tuesday, no progress was made on resolving the impasse.
“I’m continuing to have conversations with my Republican colleagues regarding the Russia sanctions bill,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement.
“I believe this is an issue that we can quickly resolve, and I hope that Republican leadership will work with us to address this issue and bring the bill to the floor for a strong, bipartisan vote this week.”
The revelations surrounding Trump Jr. added new urgency to lawmakers’ push to send the sanctions bill to Trump’s desk.
“I urge my House colleagues to pass the Senate Russia sanctions bill, and make it clear to Russia that we won’t tolerate this kind of interference in our elections or what they’re doing in regards to Ukraine or Syria. Especially in light of today’s news, Congress must act definitively and immediately,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
As The New York Times was publishing a story about it, Trump Jr. released emails on his Twitter detailing his correspondence to set up a meeting last June with a Russian lawyer offering harmful information about Hillary Clinton.
The information “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” Rob Goldstone, a publicist who served as an intermediary to set up the meeting, wrote in one of the emails to Trump Jr.
“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” Goldstone wrote.
“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” Trump Jr. replied.
He later invited then-campaign chair Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law who was a top campaign adviser at the time and is now a senior White House adviser.
The email chain’s subject line was “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.”
Before Trump Jr. got into hot water, lawmakers had expressed alarm over the weekend about President Trump’s proposal to work with Russia on a cyber unit. Trump said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had discussed the idea during their meeting at the Group of 20 summit last Friday.
Trump later backtracked after criticism from both Republicans and Democrats. Lawmakers dismissed the notion of working with Russia on cybersecurity following its interference in the 2016 election.
The underlying sanctions legislation imposes new sanctions on Russia and establishes congressional oversight of the Trump administration’s ability to lift them. It passed the Senate 98-2 last month.
But House lawmakers said the bill ran afoul of the constitutional requirement that all revenue-raising measures must originate in the lower chamber.
The Senate then approved changes to fix the constitutional issue, which included the House procedural change, before leaving for the Independence Day recess.
A House Democratic aide said that their Senate counterparts didn’t consult with them on the provision before agreeing to it.
GOP leaders want to resolve the constitutional origination problem quickly by unanimous consent.
“There are two things to date that have delayed this sanctions bill: a violation of the Origination Clause of the U.S. Constitution and now House Democrats’ objection to sending it back to the Senate to be fixed. House Democrats are now standing in the way of progress on this sanctions package,” said AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
Democrats accused the GOP of trying to stall the legislation.
“At every single turn, House Republicans have come up with excuses to avoid moving forward on a Russia sanctions bill. At the same time, we know that the administration and oil companies are lobbying them to water down the bill. Enough is enough. Pass the bill now,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that President Trump is “committed to maintaining the existing sanctions against Russia” for its aggression in Ukraine.
“This is more about foreign policy and having the flexibility to negotiate with other countries, and this includes working with allies and partners to present a united front to common foes. And we remain committed to working with Congress on those issues,” Sanders said.
– Jordain Carney contributed.