Congress reaches Russia sanctions deal

President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti, Kremlin Pool via AP

The House and Senate reached a deal Saturday to slap Russia with fresh sanctions and give Congress new veto power to block any easing of those sanctions — an agreement that could send a new bill to President Donald Trump’s desk before the end of the month.

House and Senate negotiators announced an agreement was reached Saturday morning for a bill that would include new sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

Despite the White House lobbying for changes to the measure, the legislation will give Congress a new ability to block the administration from easing sanctions on Moscow. Democrats and some Republicans have expressed concerns that Trump is considering giving Russia back two compounds in Maryland and New York that were seized by the Obama administration in December.

“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,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. “I expect the House and Senate will act on this legislation promptly, on a broad bipartisan basis and send the bill to the President’s desk.”

The House will vote on the bill on Tuesday, according to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s schedule, and the Senate is likely to take it up after that. Congressional aides expect both chambers to pass with a veto-proof majority.

In a text message to CNN, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he sees the agreement “quite negatively.”

The agreement on the sanctions was the result of an often contentious, month-long back-and-forth between the House and Senate after the Senate passed a bill for new sanctions against Russia and Iran 98 to 2 in June.

The bill faced a so-called blue slip constitutional problem that revenue generating legislation must originate in the House. That was fixed after a negotiation between the two chambers, but then House Democrats objected to another tweak that removed their ability to force a vote to stop the easing of sanctions.

McCarthy then said he wanted to add North Korean sanctions legislation that the House passed in May to the measure, prompting Democrats to accuse Republicans of stalling the bill on behalf of the White House, which was lobbying against the congressional review provision.

Numerous US companies also wanted changes over concerns the bill could inadvertently impact their businesses.

“My preference over the last month had been for the House to take up and adopt the legislation that passed the Senate 98-2; however I welcome the House bill, which was the product of intense negotiations,” said Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee. “I believe the proposed changes to the bill have helped to clarify the intent of members of Congress as well as express solidarity with our closest allies in countering Russian aggression and holding the Kremlin accountable for their destabilizing activities.”

CNN reported Friday that the deal addressed some of the concerns of US companies while keeping in the congressional review portion, besides making technical changes. To address House Democrats’ complaints, the bill gives any House member the ability to force a vote to disapprove of sanctions if the Senate passes it first.

“The legislation ensures that both the majority and minority are able to exercise our oversight role over the administration’s implementation of sanctions,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said in a statement Saturday. “I look forward to seeing this legislation on the Floor next week, where I’m confident it will receive strong, bipartisan support.”

The bill was also changed to ensure that it didn’t affect a major pipeline used to transport oil from Kazakhstan through Russia to Ukraine as well as a natural gas pipeline that goes between Russia and Germany.

The revised bill also clarifies that American companies cannot do business with already-sanctioned defense interests in Russia, as there were concerns US companies that want to finalize transportation deals could be barred from doing so under the initial bill’s restrictions.