U.S. House Speaker Wants ‘Strong, Bold’ Sanctions Bill Amid White House Opposition
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan says he wants to move as quickly as possible on a package of "strong, bold" new sanctions against Russia despite opposition from U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, which claims the bill infringes on its rights.
The White House opposes the bill, which passed the Senate last month, saying it ties Trump's hands in dealing with Russia in regard to future policy on sanctions and his ability to make adjustments.
Ryan on July 12 said: "I'm a Russia hawk. We want to move this Russia sanctions bill."
Although Trump voiced hopes to improve relations with Russia, most lawmakers -- Republicans and Democrats -- favor a tougher line than the president on Moscow.
Nevertheless, Democrats have expressed concerns that, despite his tough talk, Ryan and his Republican colleagues are delaying passage of the bill in an effort to ease sanctions to please the Trump administration.
Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and other lawmakers said the meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump's son and a Russian attorney, and the failure to disclose it, added new urgency to the drive to impose new sanctions on Russia.
"What happened with Donald Trump Jr. just underscores how Russia was operating," Cardin said, referring to the disclosure that the president's son met in June 2016 with someone identified as allegedly working with the Russian government having derogatory information on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Despite its passage in the Senate by such a wide margin, the bill has been stalled in the House over what Ryan has called policy and procedural matters.
"Right now, we have a procedural issue," Ryan said. "[And] there are some policy issues with respect to making sure that we don't actually inadvertently help Russian oligarchs and oil firms."
Ryan said he has been told that U.S. companies object to the energy-related sanctions in the bill, which oil and gas manufacturers say could hurt U.S. businesses while strengthening Russian interests.
The main procedural matter is a constitutional requirement that any bill raising government revenue must originate in the House.
Congressional aides said sanctions or fines against other countries like those in the bill could be interpreted as affecting U.S. government revenue.
The Democrats have said that, to get around the issue, they would introduce a new, but identical, bill in the House, thus meeting the requirement that a revenue bill originate in that chamber, and then send it to the Senate.
The Senate on June 15 voted 98-2 to impose the tough new sanctions on Russia for allegedly meddling in the U.S. election and other matters. Sanctions on Iran were also included in the bill.
On July 10, a top White House official said the administration was seeking to change the bill so that it did not constrain the president's authority to impose or waive sanctions in the future.
Marc Short, the White House legislative director, told reporters that the administration backs the new sanctions on Russia and Iran, but it objects to a provision giving Congress a much greater say on sanctions.
That provision would require a congressional review if President Donald Trump attempts to ease or end the bill's penalties against Moscow.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo has also reportedly told a senior Republican lawmaker that some elements of the Russia sanctions package would affect his "ability to do his work and his job."
The objection was first raised by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said in testimony last month that Trump needs to retain "the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation" with Russia.
The Democrats expressed concerns that Republican efforts to hold up the bill are a prelude to weakening the sanctions to please the Trump administration, and opposed any attempt to weaken the bill.
"I don't believe that having the president's party in a position to protect him from any oversight is good policy for our country, and in fact it'd be dangerous for our country," Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland said.
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.