House Republicans Protect Trump And Russia, Block New Sanctions Bill
In an extraordinary move to protect an adversary of the United States, the House unexpectedly blocked a Senate bill that imposes new sanctions on Russia over their interference in the 2016 presidential elections and passed the Senate almost unanimously, claiming it violates “Constitutional rules.”
The development marks a major setback after the Senate overwhelmingly passed the legislation, which also includes new sanctions against Iran, last week in a 98-2 vote.
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said the legislation “violates the constitutional requirement that revenue bills originate in the House.”
AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said, “The Senate bill cannot be considered in the House its current form.”
“The chair of the Ways and Means Committee, in consultation with the House Parliamentarian, has determined that the Senate sanctions bill as passed is in violation of the origination clause of the Constitution, commonly referred to as a ‘blue slip’ problem,” she said.
She added that Ryan strongly supports sanctions and “we will determine the next course of action after speaking with our Senate colleagues.”
But the decision is sounding alarm bells among Democrats, who are warning that Republicans could be trying to delay the bill amid pushback from the Trump administration.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) lambasted the move, arguing they’re using the procedural roadblock to cover for Trump, “who has been far too soft on Russia.”
“Responding to Russia’s assault on our democracy should be a bipartisan issue that unites both Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate. The House Republicans need to pass this bill as quickly as possible,” he said.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, added that Republicans could easily work around the violation by introducing an indention House bill.
“But I predict this isn’t the last excuse we’ll hear for trying to slow this bill’s momentum, but make no mistake, anything short of an up-or-down vote on this tough sanctions package is an attempt to let Russia off the hook,” he said.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) stressed that he didn’t think the Senate bill actually had a “blue slip” issue, but echoed Engel noting they it could be “easily corrected” by using a House bill.
“What the House many times believes [is] that if there’s any fine in the legislation … that’s a revenue measure, and therefore that comes under the blue slip,” he said. “I don’t believe that’s a part of this bill, but I know the House has raised this in the past.”
He added, “If you take that logic, the Senate could never initiate any sanctions legislation.”
The Senate passed the legislation last week, marking its most significant check on the Trump administration’s foreign policy, which has flirted with lifting sanctions in a bid to entice Moscow into an agreement.
The legislation would impose a range of new sanctions, including on any individuals tied to “malicious cyber activity,” supplying weapons to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government or any that are tied to Russia’s intelligence and defense sectors.
It would also give Congress 30 days — or 60 days around the August recess — to review and potentially block Trump from lifting or relaxing Russia sanctions, codify the sanctions on Russia imposed by executive order by the Obama administration and allow the Trump administration to impose new sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy.
It also includes new sanctions targeting Iran’s ballistic missile development, support for terrorism, transfer of weapons and human rights violations.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to use a House Foreign Affairs hearing this week to telegraph concerns about the bill, warning lawmakers against undercutting “constructive dialogue” with Russia.
“I would urge Congress to ensure any legislation allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions,” he told lawmakers.
After Tillerson’s visit, House Republicans blocked the bill.