Senate sends Russia sanctions bill to Trump’s desk

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Senators are sending legislation slapping new sanctions on Moscow to President Trump’s desk, setting up a potential showdown with the White House over Russia.
Senators voted 98-2 on the bill, which would give Congress the ability to block Trump from lifting the Russia sanctions. It also includes new penalties against Iran and North Korea.
Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) voted against the bill, with Sanders saying on Twitter that “following Trump’s comments that he won’t recertify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement I worry new sanctions could endanger it.”
The move marks congressional Republicans’ first significant rebuke of Trump’s foreign policy, where the administration’s warmer stance toward Russia has drawn heavy skepticism from both parties.
Underscoring the bipartisan support for the bill, senators agreed to temporarily set aside their days-long fight on repealing ObamaCare so they could debate and pass the sanctions bill. 
The vote comes hours after a top White House official floated that Trump could potentially veto the legislation. 
Communications director Anthony Scaramucci told CNN that “he may sign the sanctions exactly the way they are, or he may veto the sanctions and negotiate an even tougher deal against the Russians.” 
But senators were quick to warn that vetoing a bill that passed the House 419-3 earlier this week would be a significant misstep for Trump. An earlier version of the bill, which did not include North Korea penalties, passed the Senate in a 98-2 vote. 
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) downplayed the chance that Trump would use his first veto on the bill, noting he had talked to the president and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about the legislation during the past week. 
“It’s just not a good way to start a presidency to veto something and then be soundly overridden,” the Foreign Relations chairman told reporters. “It’s not something I would do, but they might choose to do it.” 
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, added separately that vetoing the bill would be a “mistake.” 
The Russia sanctions vote marks the GOP-controlled Congress’s biggest legislative victory to date. Major GOP agenda items, including ObamaCare repeal and tax reform, are running months behind schedule, and lawmakers do not yet have a deal on how to raise the debt ceiling or fund the government in the fall. 
Senators started trying to get a deal to fast-track the legislation on Wednesday night. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) noted earlier Thursday that Democrats had agreed to let the bill move quickly. 
The New York Democrat cast skepticism on the Trump administration wanting to negotiate a tougher deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 
“The idea that the President would veto this legislation in order to toughen it up is laughable. I’m a New Yorker, too, and I know bull when I hear it,” he said from the Senate floor. “If the President vetoes this bill, the American people will know that he’s being soft on Putin.”
Trump and top administration officials have expressed a desire to try to improve the U.S.-Russia relationship, which became increasingly bitter under the Obama administration.
Tillerson acknowledged during a congressional hearing earlier this year that they were trying to figure out if, as part of larger negotiations, there was a way to give back two diplomatic compounds, in New York and Maryland, that were seized in retaliation for Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential race so Moscow could use them for “recreational” purposes.

The bill would block the administration’s ability to return the compounds without congressional approval.

In addition to slapping new financial penalties on Moscow, it would give Congress 30 days — or 60 days around the August recess — to review and potentially block Trump from lifting or relaxing Russia sanctions; as well as codify the sanctions on Russia imposed by executive order by the Obama administration, and allow the Trump administration to impose new sanctions.

It would also impose new sanctions in response to Iran’s basic missile program, and target North Korea’s shipping industry and people who use slave labor.

Thursday’s vote comes after Corker announced on Wednesday night that they had gotten a deal with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) after the House GOP push to include North Korea sanctions threatened to slow down the bill in the Senate.

Corker said that in addition to the Senate passing the Iran-North Korea-Russia sanctions bill, the House had agreed to move additional penalties against Pyongyang quickly.

Several senators had been working on their own North Korea bills, and Corker suggested this week that senators were also interested in applying congressional review to sanctions against the isolated country.

The Russia legislation has been beset for weeks over a string of setbacks.

The bill ran into a hurdle almost immediately after passing the Senate in a 98-2 vote, when the House parliamentarian said the legislation violated a constitutional requirement that all revenue bills start in the House.

After the Senate approved changes to address the constitutional issue, House Democrats then objected to a provision requested by GOP leaders that prevented them from forcing votes to block Trump from lifting sanctions.

A compromise reached over the weekend ensures that any House member can force a vote on a resolution of disapproval to block sanctions relief that has already passed in the Senate.

Updated: 6:52 p.m.

Tags Bernie Sanders Bob Corker John Cornyn Rand Paul

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