Trump of­fi­cials at odds over bill

Mes­sages dif­fer about sanc­tions


WASH­ING­TON — White House of­fi­cials on Sun­day of­fered con­flict­ing state­ments on whether Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump sup­ports new leg­is­la­tion to punish Rus­sia for its med­dling in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and its ag­gres­sion to­ward Ukraine.

Sarah Huck­abee San­ders, the White House press sec­re­tary, said on ABC’s This Week that de­spite op­pos­ing Congress’ ini­tial at­tempt to im­pose sanc­tions on Rus­sia, the White House sup­ports the Rus­sia sanc­tions bill that con­gres­sional lead­ers an­nounced Satur­day.

“The ad­min­is­tra­tion is sup­port­ive of be­ing tough on Rus­sia, par­tic­u­larly in putting these sanc­tions in place,” San­ders said. “The orig­i­nal piece of leg­is­la­tion was poorly writ­ten, but we were able to work with the House and Se­nate, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion is happy with the abil­ity to do that and make those changes that were nec­es­sary, and we sup­port where the leg­is­la­tion is now.”

She con­tin­ued: “We will con­tinue work­ing with the

House and Se­nate to put those tough sanc­tions in place on Rus­sia un­til the sit­u­a­tion in Ukraine is fully re­solved.”

But ei­ther San­ders got out ahead of Trump or An­thony Scara­mucci, the White House’s new com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, didn’t have the most up-to-date in­for­ma­tion.

Asked the same ques­tion al­most si­mul­ta­ne­ously on CNN’s State of the Union, Scara­mucci said he didn’t know how the pres­i­dent felt about the new sanc­tions bill.

“You’ve got to ask Pres­i­dent Trump that,” he said. “It’s my sec­ond or third day on the job. My guess is that he’s go­ing to make that de­ci­sion shortly.”

Con­tra­dict­ing San­ders, who said the White House did sup­port the leg­is­la­tion, Scara­mucci added, “He hasn’t made the de­ci­sion yet to sign that bill one way or the other.”

San­ders, ap­pointed to her post on Fri­day af­ter the res­ig­na­tion of Sean Spicer, stopped short of con­firm­ing that Trump will sign the bill as writ­ten, and Scara­mucci said on CBS’s Face the Na­tion that “I don’t know the an­swer to whether the pres­i­dent will sign it.”

The con­flict­ing views may re­flect noth­ing more than Scara­mucci’s still get­ting up to speed in his new role, as he sug­gested. Pri­vately, White House of­fi­cials said they saw no po­lit­i­cally vi­able al­ter­na­tive to the pres­i­dent sign­ing the bill.

In re­al­ity, while the changes made the mea­sure some­what more palat­able to the White House, they mainly pro­vided a way to back down from a con­fronta­tion it was sure to lose if the sanc­tions bill reached the floor of the House. The Se­nate passed the orig­i­nal ver­sion of the bill, 972, and Repub­li­cans and Democrats ex­pected a sim­i­larly over­whelm­ing, veto-proof ma­jor­ity in the House if it came to a vote.

Not only would a veto by Trump have pre­sum­ably been over­rid­den by Congress, but White House ad­vis­ers con­ceded it would have been po­lit­i­cally dis­as­trous. While other pres­i­dents might also have re­sisted leg­is­la­tion tak­ing away their power to have the fi­nal say on sanc­tions, for Trump such a stance would be un­ten­able given in­ves­ti­ga­tions into whether his team col­luded with Rus­sia dur­ing the elec­tion.

If the pres­i­dent were to veto the bill, “we will over­ride his veto,” Sen. Ben Cardin of Mary­land, the top Demo­crat on the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, said on Fox News Sun­day.

On the same show, Repub­li­can Sen. John Thune of South Dakota pre­dicted that “in the end, the ad­min­is­tra­tion will come to the con­clu­sion that an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of Congress has” that Rus­sia should face sanc­tions for med­dling in the 2016 elec­tion.

The ap­par­ent agree­ment to fix pro­ce­dural con­cerns, add sanc­tions against North Korea, and mod­ify pro­vi­sions that would re­strict the par­tic­i­pa­tion of U.S. en­ergy com­pa­nies in some in­ter­na­tional projects, clears the way for a House vote next week. The White House had ar­gued ear­lier that it needs flex­i­bil­ity to ad­just eco­nomic sanc­tions against Moscow.

A ver­sion of the bill re­leased by House Repub­li­can lead­ers in­cludes changes sought since the Se­nate passed leg­is­la­tion in June that would pro­hibit U.S. busi­nesses from work­ing on or sup­port­ing en­ergy projects that in­clude any par­tic­i­pa­tion by Rus­sian com­pa­nies, even out­side Rus­sia’s borders.

The new ver­sion would also set a thresh­old for Rus­sian in­volve­ment, ap­ply­ing that re­stric­tion to projects where sanc­tioned Rus­sian en­ti­ties have at least a 33 per­cent in­ter­est.

A separate pro­ce­dural im­passe would be re­solved by al­low­ing lead­ers from both the ma­jor­ity and mi­nor­ity par­ties in the Se­nate or House to force their re­spec­tive cham­ber to con­sider an objection to White House ac­tion on sanc­tions. The orig­i­nal bill al­lowed any mem­ber of Congress in ei­ther cham­ber to force con­sid­er­a­tion of sanc­tions waivers. Se­na­tors can still in­tro­duce res­o­lu­tions, with lead­er­ship ap­proval.

The re­vised leg­is­la­tion was “the prod­uct of in­tense ne­go­ti­a­tions,” Cardin said in an emailed state­ment on Satur­day. With the changes, “a nearly united Congress is poised to send Pres­i­dent [Vladimir] Putin a clear mes­sage on be­half of the Amer­i­can peo­ple and our al­lies, and we need Pres­i­dent Trump to help us de­liver that mes­sage,” he said.

The leg­is­la­tion comes af­ter U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies con­cluded that Rus­sia sought to in­flu­ence the Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial elec­tion last year. Con­gres­sional com­mit­tees and the FBI are ex­am­in­ing the Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence and whether there was any col­lu­sion with Trump’s cam­paign.

The mea­sure gained ur­gency as ev­i­dence emerged in re­cent weeks that mem­bers of Trump’s fam­ily and in­ner cir­cle were in touch with Rus­sians dur­ing last year’s cam­paign. White House of­fi­cials were on Capi­tol Hill ear­lier this month ask­ing lawmakers to re­con­sider the Rus­sia pro­vi­sions that the Se­nate added to an Iran sanc­tions bill and passed 98-2.

Rep. Eliot En­gel of New York, the rank­ing Demo­crat on the For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, said Trump has been un­will­ing to re­spond se­ri­ously to Rus­sia’s bel­liger­ence, “leav­ing Congress with the ur­gent re­spon­si­bil­ity to hold Vladimir Putin ac­count­able.”

The new ver­sion also will in­clude sanc­tions against North Korea, mod­eled af­ter lan­guage that passed the House 419-1 in May and hasn’t been taken up by the Se­nate. The bill has been placed on a list of mea­sures to be con­sid­ered on the House floor Tues­day us­ing a fast-track process pas­sage that re­quires sup­port of two-thirds of all House mem­bers vot­ing. If the House passes the mod­i­fied sanc­tions pack­age, the Se­nate will hold an­other vote on the leg­is­la­tion that would now punish North Korea, Iran and Rus­sia.

Trump would then be faced with sign­ing leg­is­la­tion that takes away his power to act uni­lat­er­ally on sanc­tions. If the pres­i­dent ve­toes a law pro­posed in part to punish Rus­sia for its doc­u­mented in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 U.S. elec­tion, he risks the ap­pear­ance of do­ing a fa­vor for Moscow.

White House deputy press sec­re­tary Lind­say Walters de­clined to com­ment on the sanc­tions bill.

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

The No. 2 House Demo­crat, Steny Hoyer of Mary­land, said the agree­ment “will hold Rus­sia and Iran ac­count­able for their desta­bi­liz­ing ac­tions around the world” while mak­ing pro­vi­sions “more work­able” and en­sur­ing that both Repub­li­cans and Democrats are able to act as a check on ad­min­is­tra­tion ac­tion on sanc­tions.

But House Demo­cratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of Cal­i­for­nia sig­naled con­cern that the changes might de­lay the leg­is­la­tion. ”While we sup­port the tougher sanc­tions on North Korea, which the House has al­ready passed, I am con­cerned that adding them to this bill in­stead of stand-alone leg­is­la­tion will cause fur­ther pro­ce­dural de­lays in the Se­nate,” Pelosi said in an emailed state­ment.

“It is es­sen­tial that the ad­di­tion of North Korea to this pack­age does not pre­vent Congress from im­me­di­ately en­act­ing Rus­sia sanc­tions leg­is­la­tion and send­ing it to the pres­i­dent’s desk be­fore the Au­gust re­cess,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi’s state­ment re­flected some con­tin­ued dis­sat­is­fac­tion with ne­go­ti­a­tions, in­clud­ing the lat­i­tude the agree­ment would give House mem­bers to quickly force a vote on an ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sanc­tions ac­tion.

The mod­i­fied ver­sion rep­re­sents a mod­est vic­tory for oil com­pa­nies, man­u­fac­tur­ers and oil­field ser­vice firms that had ar­gued the ear­lier, Se­nate-passed bill could jeop­ar­dize projects around the globe — even those that weaken Rus­sia’s abil­ity to use its own nat­u­ral gas as a po­lit­i­cal weapon. They had warned that un­der the Se­nate mea­sure, Rus­sia would be em­pow­ered to el­bow U.S. com­pa­nies out of en­ergy projects glob­ally sim­ply by mak­ing small in­vest­ments in them.

The 33 per­cent thresh­old that would be es­tab­lished un­der the com­pro­mise leg­is­la­tion likely is high enough to avoid dis­rup­tions at the Shah Deniz project in Azer­bai­jan, a chief al­ter­na­tive to Rus­sia-sourced nat­u­ral gas for Tur­key. That project could have been swept up by the Se­nate-passed bill be­cause Rus­sia’s Lukoil owns a 10 per­cent share in an on­go­ing ex­pan­sion, even though BP Plc is the lead op­er­a­tor.

If the pres­i­dent were to veto the bill, “we will over­ride his veto,” Sen. Ben Cardin of Mary­land, the top Demo­crat on the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, said on Fox News Sun­day.

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