Senate passes deal to advance Russia sanctions bill
© Greg Nash

The Senate on Thursday easily cleared a deal on legislation slapping new sanctions on Moscow, overcoming an unexpected roadblock that stalled the bill for weeks in the House. 

Senators sent the House a technical fix to the sanctions bill by unanimous consent, sidestepping the need to have a formal vote that would eat up limited floor time and further delay the measure. 

“The Senate has now transmitted to the House of Representatives the technical changes requested,” Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe Memo: Romney moves stir worries in Trump World Senate GOP names first female members to Judiciary panel Former US special envoy to anti-ISIS coalition joins Stanford University as lecturer MORE (R-Tenn.) said in a statement. “I had a good conversation with Speaker [Paul] Ryan [(R-Wis.)] last night, and I am hopeful the legislation will be considered in an appropriate and timely manner.” 

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The move caps off week of back-and-forth negotiations after the Senate passed the Russia sanctions bill, which also includes new penalties for Iran, in a 98-2 vote earlier this month. 

Senators signaled earlier Thursday that they were nearing an agreement to try to overcome the hurdle that was threatening to leave the bill stuck in limbo as lawmakers leave for the weeklong July 4 recess. 

Corker and a Senate Democratic aide confirmed earlier Thursday that the agreement was being "hotlined," a fast-track process that allows senators to skip lengthy floor debate. 

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

"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 bill hit a brick wall in the House after Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyTexas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall Trump on declaring national emergency: 'Not going to do it so fast' Dems look to chip away at Trump tax reform law 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.

The fate of the Senate's bill remains uncertain in the House even with the technical hurdle fixed. 

"I think there's a pretty strong majority in the House that wants to keep the bill basically as we sent it over. I'm sure there are people that are working against it, and I'm sure the president will work against it, so we have hurdles," said Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) also warned the House against trying to water-down the Russia sanctions amid reports of pushback from the White House. 

"It's critical, critical that Congress speak in a loud, clear and unified voice to [Russian] President [Vladimir] 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." 

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 House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) has been lobbying him to have the Senate pass the bill a second time and believes that Ryan is supportive of the legislation. 

"We should have done this on Tuesday. It would have already passed the House," he said.

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. 

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 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.’"