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Congress strikes deal to stiffen Russia sanctions; Trump questions boost bill

Congress has reached a final deal on new Russia sanctions legislation, leaders announced Saturday, clearing the path for final approval of legislation that would codify penalties imposed by the Obama administration and would require President Trump to seek approval from Capitol Hill should he want to lift the sanctions.

The bill has been stalled for weeks over a constitutional hiccup — the legislation involves raising revenue but since it began in the Senate, it violates the Constitution’s stricture that all revenue bills start in the House.

But lawmakers also stumbled over how much leeway Congress should have to stop Mr. Trump should he want to lift the sanctions.

The fight — and the broader legislation — have taken on bigger significance as questions about the president’s family and aides and their dealings with Russia proliferate.

“Given the many transgressions of Russia, and President Trump’s seeming inability to deal with them, a strong sanctions bill such as the one Democrats and Republicans have just agreed to is essential,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

All sides said they expect massive bipartisan support in the coming days for the legislation, giving Congress a solid victory in a year otherwise devoid of major accomplishments.

This one, however, strikes at Mr. Trump, which helps explain why Democrats are eager to sign on.

GOP leaders said they would combine the Russia sanctions with other sanctions against North Korea and Iran, hoping to sweeten the deal for lawmakers who don’t want to be seen as slapping down Mr. Trump.

In general, the bill takes Russia penalties issued by President Obama and writes them into law, right down to naming specific Russian government and intelligence officials. The sanctions were imposed both because of aggressive Russian action in Ukraine and because of Russian cyberwarfare activities.

Lawmakers feared Mr. Trump would lift the sanctions without having earned anything in return from Moscow, and the president’s own conflicting words have done little to assuage those fears, sparking demand for the bill.

But even as Congress asserts itself on foreign policy, it has also tried to respect the president’s authority to conduct foreign relations. In order to block Mr. Trump from lifting sanctions, Congress would have to pass a resolution of disapproval, which the president would likely veto, requiring a two-thirds vote to override him and impose lawmakers’ will.

It’s the same method adopted for the Iran nuclear deal. In that instance, most Democrats backed the president, helping preserve his free hand in carrying out that controversial agreement.

For the Russia sanctions, the final sticking point was over whether Democrats would have power to force a vote in the House. In the end, the legislation does allow for the top House Democrat to call for a vote on a resolution of disapproval in the event that the president did try to waive sanctions.

The sanctions bill is scheduled for a vote on Tuesday in the House.


Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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