Back in June, a bipartisan Senate majority easily approved legislation imposing new sanctions on Russia in response to Russia’s interference in the U.S. election on a vote of 97 to 2.
The White House efforts failed.
Today the House passed a revised Russian sanctions bill on an overwhelming — and veto-proof — vote of 419-3. That bill now goes back to the Senate where it is expected to pass by a veto-proof majority, again. What is Putin’s pal in the White House to do? House passes Russia sanctions bill, setting up veto dilemma for Trump:
The House on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to advance new financial sanctions against key U.S. adversaries and deliver a foreign-policy brushback to President Trump by limiting his ability to waive many of them.
Included in the package, which passed 419 to 3, are new measures targeting key Russian officials in retaliation for that country’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election, as well as sanctions against Iran and North Korea in response to those nations’ weapons programs.
Members of the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have resisted the congressional push — in particular a provision attached to the Russian measures that would require Congress to sign off on any move to relieve those sanctions.
The legislation was revised last week to address some administration concerns, including its potential effect on overseas oil-and-gas projects that include Russian partners. But the bill passed Tuesday retains the congressional review requirement.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to say Monday whether Trump would sign or veto the bill, adding that the president “has been very vocal about his support for continuing sanctions on those three countries.” The administration did not issue a formal statement laying out its position, as is customary for major bills.
“He has no intention of getting rid of them, but he wants to make sure we get the best deal for the American people possible,” Sanders said. “Congress does not have the best record on that … He’s going to study that legislation and see what the final product looks like.”
The House voted hours after one of Trump’s closest advisers, son-in-law Jared Kushner, visited the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to give testimony on possible Russian involvement in Trump’s president campaign. Also Tuesday, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence interviewed former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who has had close ties with Ukraine’s former Moscow-aligned government.
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[T]he administration’s posture toward Russia has emerged as one of the few areas where congressional Republicans have been willing to openly buck the White House’s wishes.
An initial Senate bill targeting Iran and Russia passed in June on a vote of 98 to 2, with only Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) opposed.
That bill hit a 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 it, 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. The energy industry also raised concerns that U.S. companies could be frozen out of projects with Russian partners.
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Democrats were more aggressive during floor debate Tuesday than Republicans in casting the bill — and its congressional review requirement — as a rebuke of Trump’s foreign policy.
“This is critical at a moment when our allies are uncertain about where this administration stands with respect to Russian aggression,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who brokered a deal on the bill with GOP House leaders. He said that Congress could pursue additional sanctions targeting the Russian energy industry if Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and allies “fail to heed the message of this bill that their business as usual cannot and must not continue.”
The House voted under special procedures for noncontroversial bills expected to pass with a two-thirds majority. The near-unanimity means the House could override a presidential veto.
“The bill we just passed with overwhelming bipartisan support is one of the most expansive sanctions packages in history,” Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement following the vote. “It tightens the screws on our most dangerous adversaries in order to keep Americans safe.”
The Senate has not yet had the chance to vet the sanctions against Pyongyang, but Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters Monday that he expects the House bill to pass the Senate, with “minor details” about procedure still to be worked out.
Corker said he was exploring ways to ensure the bill would be sent to Trump before the end of the week, when House members are set to leave Washington for a five-week recess. “We’d like to get this thing passed and into law,” he said.
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The version of the bill passed by the House Tuesday addresses 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 — signaling that lawmakers were unmoved by the Trump administration’s lobbying effort to get them to scale back the congressional review power in the bill.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a statement Tuesday praising the bill and calling for swift passage.
“Senate Republican leaders should move this bill as soon as possible, so that it can be on the President’s desk without delay,” he said. “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.”
Steve Benen points out that this is where things get interesting:
If the president signs the bill, he’ll annoy his benefactors in Moscow while simultaneously ceding some of his own power. If Trump vetoes the bill, he’ll look like he’s doing Putin’s bidding, while setting up an ugly clash with his ostensible Republican allies – who might just override his veto.
So, what’s the White House’s next move? That apparently depends on whom at the White House you ask. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president and his team “support where the legislation is now.” Around the same time, Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said Trump “hasn’t made the decision yet to sign that bill one way or the other.”
Given that this bill has a veto-proof majority, Trump would be a fool to veto it in support of his pal Putin, only to have his first veto overridden by Congress. It would only fuel the appearance that he has cultivated of being Putin’s puppet.