Congress near vote on Rus­sia sanc­tions

Pas­sage of bi­par­ti­san bill could set up con­fronta­tion with pres­i­dent, who op­poses it

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Richard Lardner

WASH­ING­TON» Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans and Democrats an­nounced Satur­day they had reached an agree­ment on a sweep­ing Rus­sia sanc­tions pack­age to pun­ish Moscow for med­dling in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and its mil­i­tary ag­gres­sion in Ukraine and Syria.

Rep. Steny Hoyer of Mary­land, the No. 2 House Demo­crat, said law­mak­ers had set­tled lin­ger­ing is­sues with the bill, which also in­cludes stiff eco­nomic penal­ties against Iran and North Korea. The sanc­tions tar­get­ing Rus­sia, how­ever, have drawn the most at­ten­tion due to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s per­sis­tent push for warmer re­la­tions with Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 cam­paign.

Pas­sage of the bill, which could oc­cur be­fore Congress breaks for the Au­gust re­cess, puts Capi­tol Hill on pos­si­ble col­li­sion course with Trump. The White House had ob­jected to a key sec­tion of the bill that would man­date a con­gres­sional re­view if Trump at­tempted to ease or end the sanc­tions against Moscow. But if Trump were to veto the bill, he risks spark­ing an out­cry from Repub­li­cans and Democrats and hav­ing his de­ci­sion over­turned. The sanc­tions re­view was in­cluded in the bill be­cause of wari­ness among law­mak­ers from both par­ties over Trump’s affin­ity for Putin.

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

“The leg­is­la­tion en­sures that both the ma­jor­ity and mi­nor­ity are able to ex­er­cise our over­sight role over the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s im­ple­men­ta­tion of sanc­tions,” Hoyer said.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer called the sanc­tions leg­is­la­tion “strong” and he ex­pected the leg­is­la­tion to be passed promptly.

“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,” said Schumer, D-N.Y.

House Ma­jor­ity Leader Kevin Mccarthy posted a leg­isla­tive busi­ness sched­ule that shows the sanc­tions bill will be voted on Tues­day. Mccarthy, R-calif., had pushed to add the North Korea sanc­tions to the pack­age. The House had over­whelm­ingly passed leg­is­la­tion in May to hit Py­ongyang with ad­di­tional eco­nomic sanc­tions, but the Se­nate had yet to take up the bill.

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.

“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 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 raises the thresh­old for when U.S. firms would be pro­hib­ited from be­ing part of en­ergy projects that also in­cluded Rus­sian busi­nesses.

The bill stalled af­ter it cleared the Se­nate over con­sti­tu­tional ques­tions and bick­er­ing over tech­ni­cal de­tails. In par­tic­u­lar, House Democrats charged 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.

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