House to vote on sanc­tions against Rus­sia, Iran, N. Korea

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY MIKE DEBONIS AND KAROUN DEMIRJIAN mike.debonis@wash­post.com karoun.demirjian@wash­post.com

A weeks-long im­passe over im­pos­ing new fi­nan­cial sanc­tions on Iran and Rus­sia was bro­ken late Fri­day, with the House pre­par­ing to vote this week on a bill that would pre­vent Pres­i­dent Trump from lift­ing mea­sures against Moscow.

House lead­ers agreed to vote on an ex­panded ver­sion of the bill af­ter adding sanc­tions aimed at freez­ing North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram and drain­ing the gov­ern­ment of rev­enue to fund it. The mea­sures against Py­ongyang, which passed the House 419 to 1 as a stand-alone bill in May, were in­serted at the re­quest of House Repub­li­can lead­ers.

Should the bill pass the House and Se­nate, it would pose a dif­fi­cult veto dilemma for Trump, whose pres­i­dency has been en­veloped in ques­tions about his ties to Rus­sia. The ad­min­is­tra­tion has not is­sued a for­mal veto threat, but sev­eral of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son, have spo­ken out against it.

While some de­tails have yet to be fi­nal­ized, con­gres­sional aides said, the bill is set for a vote Tues­day, ac­cord­ing to a sched­ule cir­cu­lated Satur­day by House Ma­jor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy (RCalif.). The leg­is­la­tion will move un­der spe­cial, ex­pe­dited pro­ce­dures for non­con­tro­ver­sial bills ex­pected to pass with a two-thirds ma­jor­ity — enough sup­port to over­come a pres­i­den­tial veto.

The bill, how­ever, has hardly had a smooth ride.

An ini­tial Se­nate bill — which slapped new sanc­tions on Iran in re­sponse to its bal­lis­tic mis­sile test­ing and on Rus­sia for its med­dling in the 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion — passed in June on a vote of 98 to 2. Crit­i­cally, the puni­tive mea­sures against Moscow could be lifted only with con­gres­sional ap­proval, a de­par­ture from the flex­i­bil­ity that pres­i­dents are tra­di­tion­ally given to con­duct for­eign pol­icy.

But the bill hit an im­me­di­ate 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 the bill, 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. And the oil-and-gas in­dus­try raised con­cerns that U.S. com­pa­nies could be frozen out of projects with Rus­sian part­ners.

Last week, McCarthy added a twist by propos­ing that the sanc­tions against North Korea, which the House had al­ready en­dorsed, be at­tached to the Se­nate bill. Democrats ac­cused them of try­ing to de­lay the leg­is­la­tion’s progress through Congress, and even Se­nate Repub­li­cans seemed sur­prised by, if still po­ten­tially amenable to, the re­quest.

But ac­cord­ing to mul­ti­ple con­gres­sional aides, ne­go­ti­a­tions con­tin­ued be­hind the scenes this past week, with McCarthy and House Mi­nor­ity Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) work­ing to strike a com­pro­mise, along with Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ben­jamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), the lead­ers of the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee.

The ver­sion of the bill posted on a House web­site just be­fore mid­night Fri­day ad­dresses House pro­ce­dural con­cerns about in which cham­ber the bill would orig­i­nate, re­moves the pro­vi­sion that black­lists en­ergy com­pa­nies from en­ter­ing into oil de­vel­op­ment projects if any Rus­sian firm is in­volved, and de­lays de­fense and in­tel­li­gence sec­tor sanc­tions while ask­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion to clar­ify which Rus­sian en­ti­ties would fall within those sec­tors.

The bill also pro­tects a 30-day win­dow for Congress to take steps to block the pres­i­dent if he tries to roll back any sanc­tions im­posed against Rus­sia — a sign that law­mak­ers were un­moved by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s lob­by­ing ef­fort to get them to scale back the con­gres­sional review power in the bill.

McCarthy and House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ed­ward R. Royce (R-Calif.) said in a joint state­ment Satur­day that the re­vised bill “will now ex­clu­sively fo­cus on these na­tions and hold them ac­count­able for their dan­ger­ous ac­tions.”

The new ver­sion does not, how­ever, give House Democrats an ex­pe­dited mech­a­nism for get­ting res­o­lu­tions ob­ject­ing to the pres­i­dent’s pro­posed ac­tions to the floor. Only in cases where the Se­nate has al­ready passed a res­o­lu­tion of dis­ap­proval does the sanc­tions bill in­sist that it be put to a House vote in short or­der, re­gard­less of the whims of the House ma­jor­ity lead­ers.

Hoyer, the bill’s chief ne­go­tia­tor for House Democrats, nev­er­the­less de­fended the bill as strong. “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 in a state­ment. “Other changes made to the bill will en­sure ef­fec­tive and uni­fied im­ple­men­ta­tion among part­ners and make pro­vi­sions more work­able.”

Some House Democrats are wor­ried about an­other po­ten­tial snag: that the last-minute in­ser­tion of a new ros­ter of North Korea sanc­tions “will cause fur­ther pro­ce­dural de­lays in the Se­nate,” ac­cord­ing to House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). If the House passes the bill that lead­ers un­veiled late Fri­day night, sen­a­tors would be forced to start from scratch and take up the bill again.

The Se­nate has not yet had the chance to vet the sanc­tions against Py­ongyang.

But Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is­sued a state­ment Satur­day prais­ing the break­through and call­ing for swift pas­sage.

“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,” he said.

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