Senators clinch deal to pass Russia sanctions bill again

Lawmakers have clinched a deal on slapping new financial penalties on Russia after weeks of back-and-forth negotiations across the Capitol. 

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerDemocrats torch Trump for floating 'rogue killers' to blame for missing journalist Trump to send Pompeo to meet Saudi king Trump defends 0B US arms sale to Saudi Arabia MORE (R-Tenn.) said lawmakers have an agreement and are working to fast-track the bill in the Senate so that it can pass a second time without a formal vote.

"Yeah we've had a deal. It's being hotlined right now," Corker, who has been negotiating with House Republicans and Senate Democrats, told reporters on Thursday. 


A Senate Democratic aide confirmed Corker's comments, noting a handful of key senators — including Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerFive takeaways from the final Tennessee Senate debate Schumer rips Trump 'Medicare for all' op-ed as 'smears and sabotage' GOP senator suspects Schumer of being behind release of Ford letter MORE (D-N.Y.) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellJuan Williams: Trump’s policies on race are more important than his rhetoric It’s Mitch McConnell’s Washington – and we’re just living in it Trump makes new overtures to Democrats MORE (R-Ky.) — have signed off on the bill. 

"They’re hopeful their colleagues will agree and allow for [unanimous consent] in order to kick this back to the House," the aide said. 

If they can get every senator to sign off on the fast-track, the Senate could send a tweaked version of their bill back to the House before they leave for the weeklong July Fourth recess. 

The breakthrough comes less than a day after Corker warned that negotiations had reached a "point of total silliness" focused on "three words" of the roughly 140-page bill.

Corker declined to say what the holdup was on Thursday but denied that they were weakening a provision giving Congress at least 30 days to review, and potentially block, any push by the Trump administration to lift sanctions. 

"No, no, no," he said heading to an elevator in the Capitol basement, before turning around and adding, "it allows the House to do the same thing we're doing on that, that's all. 

"The changes were like a speck on your shirt," he said, pointing to a reporter. "This is a technical issue that in no way changes the context of the bill." 

The Senate passed the bill, which also includes tougher Iran sanctions, two weeks ago. 

It immediately hit a brick wall in the House after Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyOvernight Health Care — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Some ObamaCare premiums to decrease next year | Sanders hits back at Trump over 'Medicare for all' | Panel to investigate rising maternal mortality rates House committee to investigate rising maternal mortality rates How the Trump tax law passed: The final stretch MORE (R-Texas) said it had been flagged by the parliamentarian as a "blue slip" violation — a requirement that revenue bills start in the House. 

That excuse has drawn heavy skepticism from Democrats, who worried that the bill was being delayed amid reports of pushback from the White House.

Schumer has publicly pushed Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanElection Countdown: Cruz, O'Rourke fight at pivotal point | Ryan hitting the trail for vulnerable Republicans | Poll shows Biden leading Dem 2020 field | Arizona Senate debate tonight Paul Ryan to campaign for 25 vulnerable House Republicans GOP super PAC pushes back on report it skipped ad buys for California's Rohrabacher, Walters MORE (R-Wis.) to pass the bill before the House leaves on Friday for a week-long recess. 

"It's critical, critical that Congress speak in a loud, clear and unified voice to President Putin," he said. "I want to put the House on notice. If they water down this bill, weaken the sanctions, add loopholes to the legislation, they will find stiff resistance here in the Senate." 

Both sides have blamed each other for the setbacks on a bill that senators hoped would have a boost of momentum heading into the House. 

"Ya'll are in a tizzy about a minor issue that should have been handled in an hour," Corker told reporters. 

Asked if House Republicans were to blame, Corker said no. Pressed if Senate Democrats were to blame, he paused before reiterating: "It should have been handled in an hour." 

A senior Senate Democratic aide said on Wednesday that they wanted a deal with the House, adding that they wouldn't water down the bill before the Senate agreed to pass it for a second time. 

A second Senate Democratic aide pushed back against suggestions that their caucus was to blame for the delay. 

"Not true at all, but of course we want to know that the House has the political will and courage to just get this done. .... Because we maintain that the blue slip issue was a parliamentary delay on their part," the aide said.

The aide added that the Senate's 98-2 vote "should mean something across the Capitol — so when they get the bill back will they act expeditiously or will they further delay under their more burdensome ‘regular order.’" 

Despite the agreement, the bill's path in the House is unclear, though top Republicans have signaled support for it.

Ryan urged the Senate to repass its bill during a press conference on Thursday, and reiterated that the hold up was a procedural issue, not a policy one.

Corker has said that Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the Foreign Affairs chairman, has been lobbying him to have the Senate pass the bill a second time, and believes that Ryan is supportive of the legislation. 

"I talked to Speaker Ryan last night late and I know they plan to take the bill up," he said. "We should have done this on Tuesday it would have already passed the House."