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
Adam Wollner
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Adam Wollner
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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