Russian sanctions bill faces uncertain path in House

Russian sanctions bill faces uncertain path in House
© Greg Nash

A Senate bill slapping new financial penalties on Russia and limiting President Trump’s ability to waive sanctions faces an uncertain path in the House.

The measure was approved in a near unanimous vote Thursday in the Senate, where only Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSecond GOP senator to quarantine after exposure to coronavirus GOP senator to quarantine after coronavirus exposure The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by National Industries for the Blind - Trump seeks to flip 'Rage' narrative; Dems block COVID-19 bill MORE (R-Ky.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersNYT editorial board remembers Ginsburg: She 'will forever have two legacies' Two GOP governors urge Republicans to hold off on Supreme Court nominee Sanders knocks McConnell: He's going against Ginsburg's 'dying wishes' MORE (I-Vt.) opposed the legislation, with Sanders specifically concerned about new Iran sanctions also in the bill. But House leadership hasn’t committed to taking it up, and there are early signs of pushback from the White House.

“The Foreign Affairs Committee is reviewing the details in this latest sanctions package being voted on in the Senate, and after that we will determine a path ahead in the House,” said AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Ryan (R-Wis.).


A committee aide said the panel is looking over the measure and that it is “likely” it will take it up in the weeks ahead.

The House has shown an appetite for passing new sanctions.

Earlier this year, legislation targeting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s foreign backers was approved by voice vote. The bill would impose sanctions on individuals who have financial relationships with the Syrian government or businesses controlled by the administration.

Ryan previously called a round of sanctions in December by the Obama administration “overdue,” and warned Trump against lifting sanctions earlier this year after a top advisor signaled it was on the table.

Ryan “was a vocal proponent of the last round of sanctions and believes we must do more to hold Russia accountable,” Strong said Thursday.

The Foreign Affairs Committee aide added that Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) is “committed to working in a bipartisan way to hold Russia accountable.”

Royce said in a markup late last month that the committee was reviewing two Russian bills, one from Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and another from Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and that it was “working to try to develop bipartisan support for both measures.”

Besides imposing new targeted sanctions, the Senate measure gives Congress 30 days — or 60 days around the August recess — to review and potentially block Trump from lifting or relaxing Russia sanctions.

Senators in both parties have cast a wary eye toward Trump and Russia, and the Senate bill was widely seen as an effort to put a check on the White House in case it decides to soften sanctions on Moscow.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerHas Congress captured Russia policy? Tennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans Cheney clashes with Trump MORE, who is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that he’s had “superficial” conversations with Royce but his focus had been on getting the deal through the Senate.

“My guess is that they will find many strengths in the legislation. ...Hopefully it will be something they are open to [deliberating],” he told reporters ahead of the Senate’s vote.

The bill also includes new sanctions on Iran, which are popular with member of both parties in the House and Senate.

Republicans held off for months on passing new Russia sanctions as they tried to give the Trump administration time to turn around the U.S.-Russia relationship, which soured under President Obama.

But GOP senators signaled that progress in Syria’s civil war has been too slow to justify holding back on the legislation. Russia is a major patron of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

“It’s a very strong bill. It sends a very strong signal to Russia,” Corker said.

The administration’s warmer tone toward Moscow has been an area of contention between the White House and Republican lawmakers, who are deeply skeptical of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

After Trump — asked about allegations that Putin is a “killer” — said the United States has its own record of extrajudicial killings, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Trump expects to nominate woman to replace Ginsburg next week Video of Lindsey Graham arguing against nominating a Supreme Court justice in an election year goes viral MORE (R-Ky.) quickly fired back that “I don’t think there’s any equivalency.”

The administration has gone back-and-forth over lifting sanctions on Russia. White House senior advisor Kellyanne Conway told Fox News earlier this year that lifting sanctions imposed over Putin’s annexation of Crimea was on the table, sparking swift blowback from GOP senators and Ryan.

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.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also appeared to warn lawmakers this week against passing legislation that would undercut “constructive dialogue” between the U.S. and Moscow.

But Corker and Cardin downplayed the White House shooting down the legislation if it passes the House.

“I would imagine that they will sign this piece of legislation,” Corker told reporters, noting his staff had been in touch with the State Department throughout the negotiations.

Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman for the State Department, declined to comment on the Senate-passed bill, noting that it still needs to pass the House and the department doesn’t weigh in on “pending” legislation.

But Cardin said he took Tillerson’s remarks as “non-committal.”

I didn’t think they were hostile. ...We think that we’ll satisfy what he needs, but we’ll see,” he said. “No administration likes Congress interfering with their powers.”