House approves Russia sanctions
WASHINGTON — The House on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to advance new financial sanctions against key U.S. adversaries and deliver a foreign-policy brushback to President Donald Trump by limiting his ability to waive many of them.
Included in the package, which passed 419-3, are new measures targeting key Russian officials in retaliation for that country’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election, as well as sanctions against Iran and North Korea in response to those nations’ weapons programs.
Members of the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have resisted the congressional push — in particular a provision attached to the Russia measures that would require Congress to sign off on any move to relieve those sanctions.
The legislation was revised last week to address some of the administration’s concerns, including its potential effect on overseas oil-and-gas projects that include Russian partners. But the bill that passed Tuesday retains the congressional review requirement.
“These three regimes in different parts of the world are threatening vital U.S. interests, and they are destabilizing their neighbors,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., said Tuesday. “It is well past time that we forcefully respond.”
White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to say Monday whether Trump would sign or veto the bill, adding that the president “has been very vocal about his support for continuing sanctions on those three countries.” The administration did not issue a formal statement laying out its position.
“He has no intention of getting rid of them, but he wants to make sure we get the best deal for the American people possible,” Sanders said. “Congress does not have the best record on that. … He’s going to study that legislation and see what the final product looks like.”
The House voted hours after one of Trump’s closest advisers, son- in- law Jared Kushner, visited the House Intelligence Committee to talk about his conversations with Russians during Trump’s presidential campaign and transition. Also Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee interviewed former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who had close ties with Ukraine’s former Moscow-aligned government.
The administration’s posture toward Russia has emerged as one of the few areas where congressional Republicans have been willing to openly buck the White House’s wishes.
An initial Senate bill targeting Iran and Russia passed in June on a vote of 98-2, with only Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., opposed.
That bill hit a procedural snag over claims that it ran afoul of the constitutional requirement that revenue bills originate in the House. The roadblock came as Trump administration officials stepped up a lobbying campaign against it, prompting Democrats to accuse House GOP leaders of stalling on Trump’s behalf.
New obstacles emerged earlier this month. House Democrats objected to Senate changes to the bill that could freeze out the House minority’s ability to block sanctions relief. The energy industry also raised concerns that U.S. companies could be frozen out of projects with Russian partners.
House leaders agreed last week to vote on an expanded version of the bill after adding sanctions aimed at freezing North Korea’s nuclear program and targeting banks that provide revenue to its government. The measures against Pyongyang, which passed in the House 419-1 as a standalone bill in May, were inserted at the request of House Republican leaders.
Democrats were more aggressive during floor debate Tuesday than Republicans in casting the bill — and its congressional review requirement — as a rebuke of Trump’s foreign policy.
“This is critical at a moment when our allies are uncertain about where this administration stands with respect to Russian aggression,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who brokered a deal on the bill with GOP House leaders. He said Congress could pursue additional sanctions targeting the Russian energy industry if Russian President Vladimir Putin and allies “fail to heed the message of this bill that their business as usual cannot and must not continue.”
The House voted under special procedures for noncontroversial bills expected to pass with a two-thirds majority. The near-unanimity means the House could override a presidential veto.
“The bill we just passed with overwhelming bipartisan support is one of the most expansive sanctions packages in history,” Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said in a statement after the vote. “It tightens the screws on our most dangerous adversaries in order to keep Americans safe.”
Arkansas’ four representatives, all Republicans, voted in favor of the sanctions bill.
The Senate has not yet had the chance to vet the sanctions against Pyongyang, but Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters Monday that he expects the House bill to pass in the Senate, with “minor details” about procedure still to be worked out.