Russia sanctions still stalled in House amid finger-pointing

Tillerson says sanctions to remain on Russia
Tillerson says sanctions to remain on Russia

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Story highlights

  • The legislation hits Russia with new sanctions for its meddling in the 2016 US election
  • The proposal passed the Senate 98-2 but is stalled in the House

(CNN)As President Donald Trump's administration struggles with an escalating investigation over charges his campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 campaign, bipartisan sanctions legislation slapping new restrictions on Russia's government remains stalled on Capitol Hill.

Finger-pointing going back and forth between the parties and congressional chambers is holding up a final vote, even after the Senate passed it overwhelmingly last month.
The legislation, which cleared the Senate 98-2, would hit Russia with new sanctions for its meddling in the 2016 US election and give Congress veto power if the Trump administration tries to ease sanctions on Russia.
    Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, foreign affairs committee Chairman Ed Royce and Foreign Affairs ranking Democrat Eliot Engel met off the floor Wednesday to discuss the sanctions measure. A deal was not reached in the meeting, according to congressional aides.
    "When we have an agreement, we'll announce it to everybody," McCarthy told CNN. "We always like to talk."
    Royce's spokesman said after the bipartisan meeting, "Chairman Royce continues to work with members of both parties to find a path forward."
    House leaders in both parties say they want to get the bill passed, but have continued fighting over a series of procedural disputes.
    House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters Wednesday he wants to move the sanctions bill, but he blamed Democrats for objecting to tweaks the Senate made to resolve the so-called "blue slip" constitutional issue that revenue-generating bills must start in the House.
    "I am a Russia hawk," Ryan said. "I believe in strong, bold Russian sanctions. We want to move this Russia sanctions bill."
    But House Democrats are up in arms over the Senate's changes after the chamber passed a new version of the bill two weeks ago, because the revised bill would no longer allow any member of the House to bring a vote on a resolution against the easing of sanctions.
    Hoyer told reporters Wednesday that he was never consulted on the change, which was agreed to by Senate Democrats and House Republicans.
    "If somebody is saying that I agreed to that, they don't have the faintest idea what they're talking about," Hoyer said. "I think frankly they did not realize the consequence of striking some of the language which assured a vote by everybody."
    The fight over the House language is the latest twist for a bill that passed the Senate nearly a month ago.
    Democrats have accused Republicans of stalling the bill at the behest of the White House, which is opposed to the provisions giving Congress review power over any easing of Russia sanctions. Trump administration officials have been up on Capitol Hill lobbying against the measure.
    When the Senate bill sailed through and the House raised the technical issues last month, leaders of both parties in the Senate worked to vote on a new version of the legislation to send back to the House shortly before Trump's first face to face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit.
    But aides from both parties acknowledge that the quick pace gave little time for consultation between the two chambers. Now that members have reviewed the language more closely, House GOP and Democratic leaders are hoping to iron out the issues without re-opening the bill for a major rewrite.
    With the bill stalled, House Democrats looked to push past the procedural problem Wednesday by introducing an identical version of the Senate's bill. "It would be considered as a House bill, which would in and of itself cure the serious issue of the 'blue slip' constitutional requirement," Hoyer said.
    Hoyer also proposed a compromise to the latest procedural dispute, where the House majority and minority leaders would both be able to bring up the disapproval resolution, instead of any lawmaker.
    But AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan, criticized the move by House Democrats to introduce a new bill, telling CNN: "While they haven't shared the bill text with us, we assume it will not include the House procedure fix the Senate unanimously passed. ... This is grandstanding and not a serious effort to resolve this issue and hold Russia accountable."
    Senators who shepherded the Russia sanctions deal, which was added onto a bill leveling new sanctions against Iran, have been frustrated with the House fight, and are trying to stay out of it.
    "I think they'll pass a Russia sanctions bill, and I think it'll look almost identical to what they had," said Senate foreign relations committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican.
    Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, said the Senate was unaware that the technical changes that were requested by the House changed the ability of members to force a vote on the House floor.
    "We relied upon the House, and it was told to us it was technical in that it had the proper sign off," Cardin said. "This is a smokescreen to a bill that needs to get done now. This issue is easy to fix, fix it, send us back the bill -- don't use it as an excuse not to pass the bill."
    There's also another issue lingering over the bill in the House that could lead to changes to the measure.
    Texas lawmakers and energy companies have raised concerns about the way the sanctions could affect the US energy sector, although the Senate disagrees that it's an issue.
    But Ryan suggested that the House might address these concerns with changes to the measure.
    "There are some policy issues with respect to making sure that we don't actually inadvertently help Russian oligarchs and oil firms," Ryan said. "But aside from those issues we want to get this done, and get this fixed, and get this moving as quickly as possible."