House Poised to Add Russia Sanctions With Curbs on Trump’s Power

  • Vote expected for bill also penalizing Iran and North Korea
  • White House has sent mixed messages over sanctions legislation

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The U.S. House is poised to vote on a bill to strengthen sanctions against Russia and prevent President Donald Trump from unilaterally lifting penalties, after the measure was delayed by procedural concerns and objections from energy companies.

The measure, which was altered to ensure that oil companies can work on certain joint projects overseas, would also impose new sanctions on Iran and North Korea. House leaders expect bipartisan support for the bill in the vote Tuesday.

The White House has sent mixed messages about whether Trump would sign the legislation and has expressed concern over limiting the president’s power to ease sanctions on his own. Trump supports sanctions against the three countries but wants to make sure the U.S. gets “good deals,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One on Monday.

Congressional Rebuke

The measure would then go back to the Senate, where members of both parties have spoken in favor of changes made to the legislation they passed last month, S. 722.

The Russia sanctions measure is a rare rebuke to Trump from congressional Republicans. They say they want to prevent the president from acting on his own to lift punishment from the previous administration for meddling in last year’s U.S. election and for aggression in Ukraine. House and Senate committees and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are examining possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

As a bitter fight over health care consumes much of Washington, the sanctions bill is one of the few major legislative efforts uniting members of the fractured Republican Party, along with their Democratic colleagues.

"A nearly united Congress is poised to send President Putin a clear message on behalf of the American people and our allies,” said Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “And we need President Trump to help us deliver that message."

Ed Royce of California, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters in Washington Tuesday that Russia, Iran and North Korea “pose serious threats to our national security.”

“It’s well past time to respond with meaningful action,” he said.

Iran Sanctions

The original bill from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee included only sanctions on Iran, modeled on previous executive orders, designed to punish entities that support terrorism, sell weapons to Iran, or help that country’s ballistic missile program. The bill would also authorize, but not require, sanctions on human-rights abusers.

The Russia sanctions were added in an amendment on the Senate floor. Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, also introduced a provision to reaffirm U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the NATO agreement, which requires members to defend other nations in the alliance.

House leaders flagged procedural concerns with the Senate bill, saying the Constitution requires legislation raising revenue to originate in the lower chamber. In resolving this issue, Republicans also limited the minority party’s power to introduce and fast-track a resolution to question administration action on Russia sanctions.

Meanwhile, energy companies stepped up their lobbying in opposition to a prohibition against working on international projects with even a small Russian stake. That rule was changed to apply only to ventures where sanctioned Russian entities have at least a 33 percent interest, which prevents Russian firms from buying into a fraction of a project to keep American competition away.

This new threshold allows ventures like the Shah Deniz project in Azerbaijan, where BP Plc is the main operator and Russia’s Lukoil PJSC has a 10 percent stake in an ongoing expansion. The change also appears to give a green light to the Sakhalin 1 oil fields in Russia’s far east, where Exxon Neftegas Limited, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil Corp., is partnering with two Russian companies that have a combined interest of 20 percent.

Few Accomplishments

House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy of California also pushed for the inclusion of North Korea sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic-missile efforts. The House passed such sanctions 419 to 1 in May.

Minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California said in a statement over the weekend that while she supported that initiative, she was concerned that more major changes would result in further delays.

Timing of a new Senate vote is uncertain. The chamber is mired in debate over repealing and replacing Obamacare and plans to stay in Washington for the first two weeks of August. The House is set to begin its five-week recess at the end of this week.

Following through on the promise to be tough on Russia is one of the few accomplishments House members will have to show constituents during the summer break. Their health-care plan remains deeply unpopular, and GOP leaders are working through the main elements of their tax plan, including how to pay for it.

Trump continues to push back against the investigation of possible collusion between his campaign and Moscow. His son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, was interviewed in private by the Senate Intelligence Committee Monday and will appear Tuesday before a House panel.

— With assistance by Toluse Olorunnipa, Jennifer A Dlouhy, and Catherine Traywick

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