Political News

As health care dies, Russia sanctions prospects rise

Posted July 18

The apparent death of the Senate's health care bill also comes with an unintended effect: It could give a boost to Russia sanctions legislation to get to the President's desk before Congress leaves for August recess.

The Senate passed a bill last month to slap new sanctions on Russia and give Congress veto power over the administration if it tries to ease sanctions on Moscow. Lawmakers in both parties have been itching to get the bill to President Donald Trump's desk as the administration raises the possibility of returning two compounds in New York and Maryland to Russia, but the bill has been stalled in the House amid objections from the White House and a series of procedural snafus.

On Friday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy raised a new potential hurdle, saying he wanted to add a House-passed North Korean sanctions bill to the Senate's Russia sanctions measure, which would require the Senate to pass the bill for a third time.

Senate foreign relations committee Chairman Bob Corker said he was initially concerned that the House's plan to combine North Korea sanctions to the Senate's Russia sanctions bill would delay it beyond the August congressional recess.

But with health care seemingly out the door, the Senate calendar just opened up.

"I was concerned with North Korea being added, not because of necessarily the policy but just worried about having floor time," Corker said. "Now, it appears there could be a gap and we could well take it up."

The Tennessee Republican added that he's being speaking with House leaders about some changes to be made to the House's North Korea sanctions bill, which passed in May 419-1 and would levy new sanctions targeting North Korea's shipping industry and companies who do business with Pyongyang.

The Senate calendar remains in flux. The Senate had initially planned to leave at the end of July, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced earlier this month the chamber would stay two weeks into August to address health care, nominations and other items. But now the Senate Republican effort to repeal Obamacare is stalled.

The Russia sanctions measure, which was added to an Iranian sanctions bill, passed the Senate 98-2 last month. The legislation included new sanctions in several areas, including Russian energy projects, those who do business with Russian defense and intelligence sectors and those supplying weapons to Syria.

But the legislation has been held up at the House amid several procedural fights, and the delay has prompted Democrats to accuse Republicans of stalling the bill at the behest of the White House.

The Trump administration has expressed concerns with the bill, specifically the provision giving Congress veto power over the administration if it eases sanctions on Russia. Energy and other companies have also raised issues about the sanctions included.

House Republicans, however, blame House Democrats for failing to agree to a procedural move to send a revised sanctions bill back to the Senate after Republicans inserted a tweak fixing a technical issue. Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, is resisting because he argues that new language gives unequal treatment to House members.

House Democrats say that the latest version of the bill restricts their ability to force a vote to block the administration from easing sanctions against Russia. In the Senate, any senator cane force the vote, but only the House speaker can in the lower chamber.

"I'm sure (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is very pleased that on the House side that bringing up that resolution would be severely restricted," Hoyer said.

Hoyer said he continues to talk to McCarthy, who is heading up negotiations for House GOP leaders on the Russia bill.

The latest twist for the sanctions legislation is over North Korea. McCarthy told CNN on Monday he plans to add the House-passed North Korea sanctions measure to the Senate bill, which would require the Senate to pass its sanctions bill for a third time, because he wants sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea to all be rolled into one package.

Hoyer didn't rule out backing adding the North Korea sanctions bill to the package, saying House Democrats "have to discuss it."

Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, also said he could be open to adding North Korea sanctions to the Senate's bill - so long as it didn't push it out beyond the August recess.

"We want to make sure the bill can get done in the next two weeks," Cardin said.

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