Lawmakers inch closer to deal on Russia sanctions

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Bipartisan negotiators involved in finalizing legislation to impose sanctions on Russia expressed confidence on Thursday that a deal could be reached soon after a monthlong delay.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) have been leading discussions to resolve the impasse that has stemmed from procedural spats — as well as policy objections from the Trump administration and oil and gas companies.

Hoyer said during an exchange on the House floor with McCarthy on Thursday that they had been working “very hard on that, very constructively on that.”

{mosads}“I look forward over the next 24 hours, or more or less, to see whether or not we can get that resolved,” Hoyer told McCarthy.

Lawmakers are hoping to send the bill to President Trump’s desk before leaving for the August recess. The House is scheduled to adjourn at the end of next week for the monthlong break.

“We want to make sure that we move a bill, as you do, as quickly as possible and get agreement with the Senate and move that bill to the president’s desk,” Hoyer said.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) appeared optimistic that the House would send the measure back across the Capitol.

“I think we’ve come to conclusions that both sides of the aisle are happy with there,” Corker said. “I think they’ll move it back over here pretty soon.”

The legislation establishes congressional oversight of the Trump administration’s implementation of sanctions to prevent the president from lifting them if lawmakers disagree.

The White House has pushed back on those provisions, but Corker denied that the measure would be watered down.

“Yeah, he’s a good friend and I really love my relationship with him, but that’s not likely to occur,” Corker said of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, saying the administration wants flexibility when it comes to Russia policy. “I mean, congressional review is going to stay in this bill and there’s no attempt … whatsoever to move away from congressional review.”

The bill also establishes sanctions on Iran in response to its ballistic missile development. McCarthy suggested last week that a bill that passed the House by a 419-1 vote earlier this spring could be added into the mix.

The Senate originally passed the legislation by a 98-2 vote last month. But House lawmakers said it violated the constitutional requirement that all revenue-raising measures must originate in the lower chamber.

Senators then approved changes to address the issue by unanimous consent three weeks ago. House Democrats later raised objections to a change requested by GOP leadership that prevents the minority from forcing a vote to block the Trump administration from lifting sanctions.

In the time consumed by the partisan procedural spat, oil and gas companies have raised concerns about the bill’s limits on the extent to which American and Russian oil and gas companies can interact.

Provisions of the bill meant to hurt Russian energy companies ban American investments supporting the maintenance or construction of Russian pipelines.

But energy companies have warned lawmakers that those sanctions could inadvertently prevent U.S. oil and gas development from drilling near Russian companies, even if they’re not working together.

“There’s agreement and understanding we have a problem. We do not want to empower Russia. We do not want to weaponize them against us,” House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who represents energy companies in his district, told reporters on Thursday.

— Jordain Carney contributed.

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