Con­gres­sional group reaches sanc­tions deal

Bill takes aim at Rus­sia, oth­ers; pres­i­dent’s options cur­tailed

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Matt Flegenheimer and David E. Sanger of The New York Times, Richard Lardner of The As­so­ci­ated Press and Anna Edger­ton, Billy House and Jen­nifer A. Dlouhy of Bloomberg News.

WASH­ING­TON — A bi­par­ti­san group of House and Se­nate ne­go­tia­tors have reached an agree­ment on a sanc­tions pack­age to pun­ish Rus­sia for med­dling in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and for its mil­i­tary ag­gres­sion in Ukraine and Syria, con­gres­sional lead­ers said Satur­day.

The bill lim­its Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s abil­ity to suspend or ter­mi­nate the sanc­tions, de­fy­ing the White House’s ar­gu­ment that Trump needs flex­i­bil­ity to ad­just sanc­tions to fit his diplo­matic ini­tia­tives with Moscow. Un­der the bill, Trump is re­quired to send Congress a re­port ex­plain­ing why he wants to suspend or ter­mi­nate a par­tic­u­lar set of sanc­tions. Law­mak­ers would then have 30 days to de­cide whether to al­low the move or re­ject it.

The White House has not pub­licly com­mented on the com­pro­mise leg­is­la­tion. But two se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said they could not imag­ine Trump ve­to­ing the leg­is­la­tion in the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere, even if he re­gards it as in­ter­fer­ing with his ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­ity to con­duct for­eign pol­icy. This would be his first de­ci­sion about whether to veto a sig­nif­i­cant bill.

The bill also in­cludes stiff eco­nomic penal­ties against Iran and North Korea. The sanc­tions tar­get­ing Rus­sia, how­ever, have drawn the most at­ten­tion as a re­sult of Trump’s push for warmer re­la­tions with Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and be­cause of the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 cam­paign.

A sanc­tions pack­age had stalled in the Repub­li­can-led House for weeks af­ter win­ning nearly unan­i­mous sup­port in the Se­nate last month. Democrats ac­cused Repub­li­cans of de­lay­ing quick ac­tion on the bill at the be­hest of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, which had asked for more flex­i­bil­ity in its re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia and took up the cause of en­ergy com­pa­nies, de­fense con­trac­tors and other fi­nan­cial play­ers who sug­gested that cer­tain pro­vi­sions could harm U.S. busi­nesses.

The House ver­sion of the bill in­cludes a small num­ber of changes, tech­ni­cal and sub­stan­tive, from the Se­nate leg­is­la­tion, in­clud­ing some made in re­sponse to con­cerns raised by oil and gas com­pa­nies.

But for the most part, the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship

ap­pears to have re­jected most of the White House’s ob­jec­tions. The bill aims to pun­ish Rus­sia not only for in­ter­fer­ence in the elec­tion but also for its an­nex­a­tion of Crimea from Ukraine, its con­tin­u­ing mil­i­tary ac­tiv­ity in east­ern Ukraine and its hu­man-rights abuses. Pro­po­nents of the mea­sure seek to im­pose sanc­tions on peo­ple in­volved in hu­man-rights abuses, sup­pli­ers of weapons to the gov­ern­ment of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad, and those un­der­min­ing cy­ber­se­cu­rity, among oth­ers.

The House ver­sion of the bill is set for a vote Tues­day, ac­cord­ing to the of­fice of the cham­ber’s ma­jor­ity leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

“North Korea, Iran and Rus­sia have in dif­fer­ent ways all threat­ened their neigh­bors and ac­tively sought to un­der­mine Amer­i­can in­ter­ests,” McCarthy and Rep. Ed Royce of Cal­i­for­nia, the Repub­li­can chair­man of the For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, said in a joint state­ment. “The bill the House will vote on next week will now ex­clu­sively fo­cus on these na­tions and hold them ac­count­able for their dan­ger­ous ac­tions.”


The Se­nate last month passed sanc­tions leg­is­la­tion that tar­geted only Rus­sia and Iran. Con­gres­sional aides said there may be re­sis­tance among Se­nate Repub­li­cans to adding the North Korea penal­ties, but it re­mained un­clear whether those con­cerns would fur­ther stall the leg­is­la­tion. The aides were not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly and re­quested anonymity to dis­cuss in­ter­nal de­lib­er­a­tions.

“A nearly united Congress is poised to send Pres­i­dent Putin a clear mes­sage on be­half of the Amer­i­can peo­ple and our al­lies, and we need Pres­i­dent Trump to help us de­liver that mes­sage,” said Sen. Ben Cardin of Mary­land, the top-rank­ing Demo­crat on the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee.

Cardin said that though he would have pre­ferred full adop­tion of the Se­nate ver­sion, “I wel­come the House bill, which was the prod­uct of in­tense ne­go­ti­a­tions.”

He said the leg­is­la­tion would “ex­press sol­i­dar­ity with our clos­est al­lies in coun­ter­ing Rus­sian ag­gres­sion and hold­ing the Krem­lin ac­count­able for their desta­bi­liz­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.”

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he ex­pected this “strong” bill to reach the pres­i­dent’s desk promptly “on a broad bi­par­ti­san ba­sis.”

“Given the many trans­gres­sions of Rus­sia, and Pres­i­dent Trump’s seem­ing in­abil­ity to deal with them, a strong sanc­tions bill such as the one Democrats and Repub­li­cans have just agreed to is es­sen­tial,” Schumer said.

In the House, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Mary­land, the mi­nor­ity whip, praised the agree­ment’s stip­u­la­tion that “the ma­jor­ity and mi­nor­ity are able to ex­er­cise our over­sight role over the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s im­ple­men­ta­tion of sanc­tions.”

The pre­cise me­chan­ics of how in­volved House Democrats would be in the review process had been a key stick­ing point, but Hoyer said he was pleased with the out­come.

But Rep. Nancy Pelosi of Cal­i­for­nia, the Demo­cratic leader, struck a no­tably dif­fer­ent tone. In a state­ment, she said she was “con­cerned by changes in­sisted upon by Repub­li­cans” that would em­power only the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship to “orig­i­nate ac­tions in the House to pre­vent the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion from rolling back sanc­tions.”

She also reg­is­tered con­cerns about adding sanc­tions against North Korea to the pack­age, ques­tion­ing whether it would prompt de­lays in the Se­nate. Schumer and Cardin ex­pressed no such con­cerns.

The House and Se­nate ne­go­tia­tors ad­dressed con­cerns voiced by Amer­i­can oil and nat­u­ral gas com­pa­nies that sanc­tions spe­cific to Rus­sia’s en­ergy sec­tor could back­fire on them to Moscow’s ben­e­fit. The bill would set a thresh­old for when U.S. firms would be pro­hib­ited from be­ing part of en­ergy projects that also in­cluded Rus­sian busi­nesses, ap­ply­ing that re­stric­tion to projects in which sanc­tioned Rus­sian en­ti­ties have at least a 33 per­cent in­ter­est.

The de­lays in the House be­came a source of deep frus­tra­tion among some Rus­sia hawks — in­clud­ing Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., be­fore he left Wash­ing­ton for med­i­cal treat­ment for a brain tu­mor.

“Pass it, for Christ’s sake,” he said to his House col­leagues, as the mea­sure lan­guished this month over tech­ni­cal con­cerns raised mostly by Repub­li­cans.

House Democrats claimed that GOP lead­ers had cut them out of the con­gres­sional review that would be trig­gered if Trump pro­posed to ter­mi­nate or suspend the Rus­sia sanc­tions. But Repub­li­cans re­jected the com­plaint and blamed Democrats for hold­ing up the bill.

The review re­quire­ment in the sanc­tions bill is styled af­ter 2015 leg­is­la­tion pushed by Repub­li­cans and ap­proved in the Se­nate that gave Congress a vote on whether then-Pres­i­dent Barack Obama could lift sanc­tions against Iran. That mea­sure, which never reached the pres­i­dent’s desk, re­flected Repub­li­can com­plaints that Obama had over­stepped the power of the pres­i­dency and needed to be checked by Congress.

As House Repub­li­can lead­ers like Speaker Paul Ryan chafed at the sug­ges­tion that they were do­ing the White House’s bid­ding by not tak­ing up the mea­sure im­me­di­ately, the ad­min­is­tra­tion sought to pres­sure mem­bers by in­sist­ing that the leg­is­la­tion would un­duly ham­string the pres­i­dent.

Of­fi­cials ar­gued that Trump would be ef­fec­tively hand­cuffed — de­prived of the power to ease or lift the sanc­tions as he saw fit. The White House pushed to re­move lan­guage giv­ing Congress the abil­ity to block such ac­tions.

The North Korea sanc­tions bill in­cluded in the sanc­tions pack­age orig­i­nally cleared the House by a 419-1 vote, and House Repub­li­cans be­came frus­trated the Se­nate didn’t move quickly on the mea­sure given the vast bi­par­ti­san sup­port it re­ceived. The sanc­tions bar ships owned by North Korea, or by coun­tries that refuse to com­ply with United Na­tions res­o­lu­tions against it, from op­er­at­ing in Amer­i­can wa­ters or dock­ing at U.S. ports. Goods pro­duced by North Korea’s forced la­bor would be pro­hib­ited from en­ter­ing the United States.

The sanc­tions pack­age im­poses manda­tory penal­ties on peo­ple in­volved in Iran’s bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­gram and any­one who does busi­ness with them. The mea­sure would ap­ply ter­ror­ism sanc­tions to the coun­try’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard and en­force an arms em­bargo.

“Given the many trans­gres­sions of Rus­sia, and Pres­i­dent Trump’s seem­ing in­abil­ity to deal with them, a strong sanc­tions bill such as the one Democrats and Repub­li­cans have just agreed to is es­sen­tial.”

— Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

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