Tuesday, 25 July 2017

House Passes New Russia Sanctions That Would Curb Trump's Power

House Passes New Russia Sanctions That Would Curb Trump's Power

The U.S. House voted to strengthen sanctions against Russia and rebuked President Donald Trump, whose campaign is being investigated for possible ties to Moscow, by preventing him from unilaterally lifting penalties.

The measure, which also would impose new sanctions on Iran and North Korea, passed the House Tuesday on a vote of 419-3. The bill now goes to the Senate, where members of both parties have spoken in favour of revisions made to a version of the legislation they passed last month.

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The White House has sent mixed messages about whether Trump would sign the measure, expressing 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 Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One on Monday.

The Russia sanctions measure, H.R. 3364, is a rare signal of disapproval of Trump from congressional Republicans. They say they want to prevent the president from acting on his own to lift penalties imposed by 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.

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“This bill represents a very broad, bipartisan House-Senate agreement that the United States must enforce tougher sanctions,” Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, California Republican, said on the House floor. He said it “targets the things that matter” Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Eliot Engel of New York, the committee’s top Democrat, said, “This administration has shown over and over that they are willing to cozy up to Putin. But here’s the truth: Putin is not our ally.”

Health Fight

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.

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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.

The original bill from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee included sanctions only on Iran, modelled 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 also authorizes, but doesn’t 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 the U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the NATO agreement, which requires members to defend other nations in the alliance.

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House leaders flagged procedural concerns with the Senate-passed bill, saying the Constitution requires legislation raising revenue to originate in the lower chamber.

In resolving that issue, Republicans also limited the minority party’s power to introduce and fast-track a resolution to question an effort by Trump to ease Russia sanctions.

Under the House-passed version, Congress could prevent the president from completing the proposed action through a joint resolution disapproving it. In the House, the resolution would have to be introduced by the majority or minority leader; in the Senate, those leaders or a designee could introduce the measure.

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 in which 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 such as 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., has a partnership with two Russian companies that have a combined interest of 20 percent.

North Korea

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

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.

In addition, Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, suggested some concerns have to be resolved before the measure is sent to the president.

"We’ll figure out how we’re going to do it," Corker, a Tennessee Republican, told reporters Tuesday in Washington. "We worked through all the language on Russia. There was no concern on Iran. Adding the North Korea piece, we’ve got to figure out how we want to deal with that."

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, which he has called a “witch hunt.” His son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, was interviewed in private by the Senate Intelligence Committee Monday and appeared Tuesday before a House panel.

Bloomberg

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