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Russia sanctions bill hits yet another snag

The Russia sanctions bill appears to have hit yet another snag over a separate dispute between two Republicans -- Sen. Bob Corker and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy -- and their fight involves sanctions for North Korea.

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Jeremy Herb
Deirdre Walsh (CNN)

The Russia sanctions bill appears to have hit yet another snag over a separate dispute between two Republicans -- Sen. Bob Corker and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy -- and their fight involves sanctions for North Korea.

One day after the House passed legislation 419-3 to enact new sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea - as well as tying President Donald Trump's hands to remove Russia sanctions - Corker, the Senate foreign relations chairman, said he planned to strip out the North Korea-related portion of the bill.

The dispute between Corker and McCarthy throws new uncertainty into the legislation, casting doubt on whether the bill will make it to the President's desk before Congress leaves for its August recess.

The dispute has turned into a game of congressional chicken, where neither side appears ready to budge when it comes to the North Korean sanctions.

"What likely will happen is we will strip out the North Korea piece and send it back to them so that the two pieces we negotiated together will remain intact," Corker said at a Washington Post Live event Wednesday morning.

House Republicans shot back that the Senate should pass the House bill.

"There has long been agreement that North Korea sanctions are due -- especially given new reports that North Korea will be able to reliably deliver a nuclear weapon to the continental United States by the end of next year," McCarthy spokesman Matt Sparks said. "That is why the House added the previously House-passed North Korea sanctions bill-- which has been languishing in the Senate for over two months -- to the Senate bill. The House passed this full package yesterday 419-3 and the Senate should act expeditiously on it."

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, a California Republican, also blasted Corker's move, calling it "completely unacceptable.

"Nearly three months ago, the House passed strong North Korea sanctions by a vote of 419-1," Royce said in a written statement to CNN. "The Senate did not take up the bill, even after Kim Jong Un test fired a new ICBM that could soon be capable of hitting California. Now the House has acted again, by a vote of 419-3."

AshLee Strong, spokeswoman to House Speaker Paul Ryan, argued the House took a decisive bipartisan vote.

"We look forward to the Senate acting on it without delay," she said.

Corker's intention to remove North Korea is just the latest twist on a long-running drama over the bill, which passed the Senate with just Russia and Iran sanctions over a month ago. McCarthy added the North Korea sanctions portion before the House passed the bill.

The Senate initially passed a bill sanctioning Russia and Iran 98-2, after an agreement was struck between Senate foreign relations and banking committee leaders on the Russia sanctions.

But the White House began lobbying against the legislation, which gave Congress the ability to block the administration from easing Russia sanctions. US companies also wanted changes over concerns they would be put at a disadvantage due to the new sanctions.

The bill went through weeks of procedural limbo in the House, first over concerns about a "blue slip" constitutional problem that revenue generating bills begin in the House, and then over a fight with Democrats over who could force a vote on stopping the administration from easing sanctions.

RELATED: Russia sanctions bill still stuck in Congress

McCarthy then said he wanted to add the House's North Korea bill to the Senate's legislation.

On Saturday, House and Senate leaders from both parties announced an agreement to move the bill with Russia, Iran and North Korea sanctions.

Everyone said the deal was done - except for Corker, who was silent over the weekend while he said he was out of town.

A Democratic congressional aide said that Corker's office had signed off on the final package, but a Corker aide disputed that, saying that only the Russia portion was agreed to.

Corker told reporters he spoke to McCarthy Wednesday morning about the dispute, and they had yet to decide on a path forward. He said he had been urging the House "at every step" not to add North Korea sanctions to the bill, but now that it's done, he saw three options: Pass the House bill, send it back to the House without North Korea, or make some changes to the North Korea portion.

Corker argued there were senators who want to make changes to the bill, and specifically he's mentioned giving Congress veto power over removing North Korean sanctions, known as congressional review, just as the legislation allows for Russia.

"There aren't huge changes but there are some changes people would like to put in, like to add congressional review to it which is now does not have," he said Wednesday.

Senate Democrats pressed Corker and Republican leaders not to let the bill slip past the congressional August recess.

"This is not yet another delay generated by Republicans to prevent this bill from landing on the President's desk before we leave for the recess," Schumer said of Corker's North Korea comments. "We shouldn't delay this legislation any longer."

Corker said that the delay had nothing to do with White House concerns. Republicans on both sides of the Capitol, he said, want the bill to get to the president's desk before Congress leaves town.

"The White House doesn't like this bill, State doesn't like this bill. This bill is going to become law, OK," Corker said. "It's not going to turn into a cluster - we're going to solve it."

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