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Senate reaches deal on Russia sanctions
The Senate has clinched a wide-ranging bipartisan agreement to slap new financial penalties on Russia and limit President Trump's ability to lift sanctions without giving Congress a chance to weigh in.
"It's as comprehensive as we could make it, and it's going to be a very good piece of legislation," Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told reporters on Monday night, shortly after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) formally filed the deal.
The agreement imposes new sanctions including "malicious cyber activity" on behalf of Moscow, individuals supplying weapons to Syrian President Bashar Assad's government or individuals tied to Russia's intelligence and defense sectors.
The deal would also give Congress 30 days–or 60 days around the August recess–to review and potentially block Trump from lifting or relaxing Russia sanctions.
It would also codify the sanctions on Russia imposed by executive order by the Obama administration and allow the Trump administration to impose new sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy.
Senators filed the deal late Monday night to a separate Iran sanctions bill currently being debated on the floor.
Both are likely to be voted on this week, marking a significant shift from even last month, when top Republicans appeared wary of moving forward with such sanctions.
The formal announcement of the deal comes after Corker told reporters earlier Monday evening that negotiators had reached an agreement, capping off roughly a week of negotiations with staffers and senators talking around the clock about how to add new financial penalties on Russia, limit Trump's ability to lift current sanctions, or both.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) immediately praised the deal, urging the House to also pass it quickly.
"By codifying existing sanctions and requiring Congressional review of any decision to weaken or lift them, we are ensuring that the United States continues to punish President Putin for his reckless and destabilizing actions. These additional sanctions will also send a powerful and bipartisan statement to Russia," he said.
Senators signaled earlier Monday that they were closing in on an agreement, with negotiators using a handful of sanctions bills introduced earlier this year as a framework for the talks.
Corker declined to compare the agreement to the previously introduced bills, but said lawmakers "took pieces of each bill that we felt were the most salient."
A bill from from Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) would impose financial penalties on Russia for its meddling in the 2016 presidential election, as well as its role in the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. It would also codify sanctions implemented under the Obama administration by executive order.
Meanwhile, a deal from Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Banking Committee, would have "codify and strengthen" existing sanctions Obama's executive orders. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also introduced a stand alone bill to give Congress oversight over any attempt to lift sanctions.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also introduced a stand alone bill to give Congress oversight over any attempt to lift sanctions, and Corker told reporters on Monday night that he wrote his own bill months ago but never introduced it.
The agreement appears to be a win for Democrats and some Republicans, who have pushed for a broad Russia sanctions bill to be included in the Iran legislation.
Cardin said he wants the bill to include "clear direction for the president on sanctions" and new tools to review and block Trump from lifting sanctions.
Several lawmakers were involved in the talks, including Cardin, Corker, Graham, McCain and top members of the Senate Banking Committee.
The Trump administration has sent mixed signals on Russia, and Trump's warmer tone toward Moscow has drawn bipartisan backlash.
Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council, said last month that the administration wouldn't weaken Russia sanctions, adding that, "if anything, we could probably look to get tougher."
Cohn's comments were a clarification of earlier remarks in which he said the president didn't have a position on Russia sanctions.
The administration has also sparked concern over reports that it could hand back two diplomatic compounds in the United States to Russia.
Corker added on Monday night that he has discussed the bill with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and would be "stunned" if the agreement didn't get enough support to override a potential veto–a move he also downplayed as unlikely.
"I've got to believe that the administration has to at least strongly consider supporting this," he said, while adding that they haven't seen the "final product" but have been kept in the loop.
[Source: By Jordain Carney, The Hill, Washington, 12Jun17]
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