Russia Sanctions Bill Stalled Amid Partisan Sniping

House Democrats are now pushing for their chamber to pass the Senate’s original measure, which Republicans won’t do.

Rep. Steny Hoyer D-Md., speaks at the 2017 American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference held at the Verizon Center in Washington, Monday, March 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
July 12, 2017, 8 p.m.

Nearly one month after the Senate passed Russia-sanctions legislation with only two dissenting votes, the bill remains mired in the House, as frustrated members of both parties continue to search for a way forward.

House Democratic and Republican leaders alike have publicly expressed support for the Senate’s bill, which would increase economic sanctions on Russia and allow Congress to override any move by the White House to lift existing sanctions. But a number of procedural and political concerns have prevented the lower chamber from passing the bill. And after several days of negotiating since returning from recess, members still haven’t broken the impasse.

House Democrats attempted to alleviate their main concerns, as well as force the hand of their GOP counterparts who they have accused of stalling, by introducing the original Senate bill as a House bill Wednesday night. That version of the bill, which also dealt with Iran sanctions, allowed for any member of Congress to force a vote on a resolution of disapproval if the administration rolled back sanctions.

But it couldn’t go anywhere because the constitution requires legislation concerning revenue to originate in the House. When the Senate agreed to that fix, it also adopted a change that authorized only the majority party to override an easing in sanctions policy. House Democrats saw this as giving in to the White House, which has expressed opposition to the congressional-review portion of the bill.

By going back to the first Senate bill, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said, they would be able to solve all these issues simultaneously.

“For the Republicans in the House of Representatives to be afraid and unwilling to allow even the minority leader to bring up a resolution of disapproval indicates to me that they are in a protective mode, not a mode of assuring, as the Senate did, that we have significant oversight and protections vis-a-vis Russia sanctions,” Hoyer told reporters.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan is not on board with this move. His spokeswoman, AshLee Strong, said it would only delay the sanctions bill further because the Senate would have to take it up again.

“This is grandstanding and not a serious effort to resolve this issue and hold Russia accountable,” Strong said.

Hoyer also said he brought up a proposal to Ryan that would allow either the House majority or minority leader to introduce a resolution of disapproval. But Strong said that was just another example of Democrats trying to slow-walk the process.

Ryan reiterated Wednesday that he still wants to move the Russia sanctions legislation. He could technically buck House Democrats and send the bill back to the Senate as written, but he said he wants to keep with precedent of dealing with procedural issues in a bipartisan way.

“You know me, I’m a Russia hawk,” Ryan told reporters. “I believe in strong, bold Russian sanctions.”

Republicans are also facing plenty of pressure off Capitol Hill. The White House is concerned the legislation could tie its hands in dealing with Moscow, and multiple news outlets reported that officials from the Treasury and State departments have lobbied congressional staffers against the bill over the past week. Marc Short, the White House’s legislative director, told reporters earlier this week that the administration supports additional sanctions on Iran and Russia, but not the congressional review portion.

“The way it is currently drafted is a way neither a Republican nor a Democratic administration could support,” Short said.

On top of that, there are also concerns that the new sanctions would hinder U.S. energy companies’ ability to conduct business abroad. The American Petroleum Institute said earlier this month that the legislation would prevent U.S. companies from participating in projects that involve Russian companies all over the world, not just in Russia. Rep. Pete Sessions, a Republican who represents oil-rich Texas, has been outspoken on this point, and and one senior GOP source said several other members share his concern.

The continued delay in the House is increasingly frustrating their colleagues on the other side of the Capitol. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, one of the authors of the upper chamber’s legislation, said that the “dilly-dallying” in the House has been a “ridiculous waste of time.” Corker told reporters that he had spoken with Hoyer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi about their concerns.

The ranking member of the Foreign Relations panel, Ben Cardin, also said he has been in contact with members of the House, saying “they need to act now.”

“My guess is those who are trying to weaken or defeat the bill are using every opportunity they can to do that,” Cardin told reporters Tuesday. “And I know that the House Democrats want to see this bill pass. So to me, it’s up to the Republicans in the House to bring this bill up, get this passed.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has been one of the leading advocates for placing additional sanctions on Russia, said Congress can’t afford to look divided on the issue.

“The last thing we want to do is send a mixed message about how we feel about Russia.” Graham said.

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