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House passes Russia sanctions deal
The GOP-controlled House easily passed bipartisan legislation on Tuesday to limit the Trump administration's ability to lift sanctions on Russia.
Three Republicans – Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), John Duncan Jr. (Tenn.) and Thomas Massie (Ky.) – voted against the bill, which passed 419-3.
Tuesday's vote amounted to a rebuke of President Trump, whose administration had pushed to water down the bill's provisions giving Congress the power to veto the lifting of sanctions.
"This strong oversight is necessary. It is appropriate. After all, it is Congress that the Constitution empowers to regulate commerce with foreign nations," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said.
Trump expressed a desire to mend relations with Russia during the 2016 campaign and is reportedly considering restoring Russian access to two diplomatic compounds in New York and Maryland that the Obama administration seized last year as punishment for the country's meddling in the presidential election.
The House is scheduled to depart Washington for the August recess at the end of this week, meaning the sanctions package will likely be its biggest legislative accomplishment to date.
The GOP-controlled Congress has not been able to send bills fulfilling major campaign pledges, such as repealing ObamaCare and reforming the tax code, to Trump's desk thus far.
For now, its biggest victory heading into the summer recess is the measure constraining the president amid the investigations into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to sway the 2016 election.
The Trump administration urged lawmakers to ensure the president would have flexibility to adjust sanctions policy. But he lacks the votes to block the legislation, given that the House passed the bill with a veto-proof majority.
"While the President supports tough sanctions on North Korea, Iran and Russia, the White House is reviewing the House legislation and awaits a final legislative package for the President's desk," White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement on Tuesday after the House vote.
The bill establishes new sanctions on Iran and North Korea, in addition to Russia.
Under the House-passed bill, existing sanctions on Russia for its aggression in Ukraine and interference in the 2016 election would be codified into law. New sanctions would go into effect against Iran for its ballistic missile development, while North Korea's shipping industry and people who use slave labor would be targeted amid the isolated nation's nuclear and missile programs.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday on a new Defense Department estimate that North Korea will be able to field a reliable, nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile as early as next year.
The sanctions legislation has been stalled in the House since the Senate passed the legislation by a 98-2 vote last month.
The first snag came from House lawmakers, who noted that the Senate bill violated the constitutional requirement that all revenue-raising measures originate in the lower chamber.
After the Senate approved changes to address the constitutional issue, House Democrats then objected to a provision requested by GOP leaders that prevented them from forcing votes to block Trump from lifting sanctions.
A compromise reached over the weekend by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) ensures that any House member can force a vote on a resolution of disapproval to block sanctions relief that has already passed in the Senate.
It also allows either the House majority or minority leaders to introduce a resolution of disapproval.
As the procedural problems stalled the bill, oil and gas companies raised concerns about provisions limiting the extent to which American and Russian energy companies could interact. Those companies warned that provisions banning American investments supporting the maintenance or construction of Russian pipelines could inadvertently prevent U.S. development near Russian sites.
In an effort to address those concerns, the latest version of the bill clarifies that only Russian energy export pipelines can be sanctioned. It also establishes that the ban on U.S. investments in deepwater, shale or Arctic offshore projects applies only if there are Russian entities with an ownership interest of at least 33 percent.
"In the process of making Russia pay an economic cost for their bad behavior, we must ensure we are not harming U.S. interests at home and abroad," warned House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas).
Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is supportive of the sanctions package but expressed concern that it might not have a smooth path to passage in the Senate.
"It seems we may be on the floor before we ironed out all our differences with the other body," Engel said, citing the late addition of North Korea sanctions. "I hope we don't face further delays when this bill gets back to the other house."
The Senate is scheduled to be in session through the first two weeks of August, but it's unclear when it might take up the sanctions bill to send to Trump's desk.
David Popp, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said the chamber is currently considering healthcare reform and noted that pausing that process would require a unanimous consent agreement.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged his GOP counterparts to schedule a vote on the sanctions package expeditiously.
"Senate Republican leaders should move this bill as soon as possible, so that it can be on the President's desk without delay. Passing the bill on a bipartisan basis will send a strong signal to the White House that the Kremlin needs to be held accountable for meddling in last year's election," Schumer said in a statement.
[Source: By Cristina Marcos, The Hill, Washington, 25Jul17]
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