Senate Re-Passes Russia Sanctions Bill

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Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks during a joint press conference with his Moldovan counterpart following their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on January 17, 2017. (Credit: SERGEI ILNITSKY/AFP/Getty Images)

Ahead of President Donald Trump’s first face-to-face encounter with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week at the G20 summit, the Senate passed Thursday for a second time a Russia sanctions package that had stalled on Capitol Hill.

The Senate has passed a technical correction to its Russia sanctions bill by unanimous consent, making minor changes to the bill to address House concerns that the original language violated the Constitution.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, had said earlier Thursday an agreement had been struck to bring the revised version of the bill back to the floor, in order to make technical changes to the legislation that would satisfy the House.

Two weeks ago, the original bill passed 98 to 2 despite concerns raised by the Trump administration. It would impose new sanctions on Russia and provide Congress with the authority to review any effort to weaken them.

After the overwhelming vote, bipartisan backers in the House hoped to take it up quickly and approve it to send to President Donald Trump. But after reviewing the Senate bill, House GOP leaders reported that there was language in it that violated the Constitution.

Democrats charged that Republicans in the House were deliberately stalling on the issue because the President has voiced views that the United States’ policy shouldn’t be as tough on Russia, and the two countries should be given room to negotiate on a number of foreign policy issues.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and other top leaders publicly backed the bill but insisted that the hold up was a so-called “blue slip” issue that ran afoul of the constitutional requirement that any bill containing revenue measures begin in the House of Representatives.

“They wrote the bill incorrectly,” Ryan told reporters Thursday. “They did not pass it correctly — they violated constitutional protocols.”

Ryan was joined by two top committee chairs — California’s Ed Royce from Foreign Affairs and Texas’ Kevin Brady from Ways and Means — in arguing it was the responsibility of the House to fix the issue, so GOP leaders shipped the bill back to the Senate.

But Democrats have pointed out that the Senate’s fix Thursday still won’t get the House to pass the bill ahead of the expected Trump-Putin meeting next week because Congress is on recess for the week of the July 4th holiday. They have argued that similar issues were quickly resolved on previous sanctions bills without sending the bill back to the Senate.

Corker, however, said that the issue was being overblown, and the White House had not asked him to change the bill, which includes both Russian and Iranian sanctions.

“You all are in a tizzy about a minor issue that should have been handled in an hour,” Corker said, adding that it was not the House’s fault the issue took all week to resolve. “This is a technical issue that changes in no way the context of the bill.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, citing the speaker’s comment that the hold-up was a process issue, argued that was easy to address and the House should be able to pass the sanctions bill Thursday. She added “if it gets into substance, it’s a problem.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York also called on the House to pass the bill this week now that the technical issue was resolved.

“We wanted to send a message to Mr. Putin: If you interfere with our democratic institutions, you will be punished,” Schumer said. “It’s important for Speaker Ryan to act on this legislation before July 4th’s recess.”