Dems stall sanctions bill over new change

Washington Post
Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Popular legislation that would limit President Donald Trump’s ability to lift financial sanctions on Russia is mired in a partisan dispute in the House, with Democrats charging that a recent change would weaken the bill.

The surprising roadblock emerged in recent days as Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the Group of 20 summit in Germany and floated the possibility of joining forces with Russia on a cybersecurity initiative, to objections from both parties.

The pending legislation, which passed the Senate on a 98-to-2 vote last month, is effectively a congressional check on Trump: anytime the president wants to make a change to sanctions policy on Russia, lawmakers would have a chance to block him.

It is a privilege Congress has infrequently awarded itself – such as in 2015, when lawmakers insisted on a chance to weigh in on the Iran nuclear deal – as presidents are typically afforded broad discretion to impose and lift financial sanctions.

Trump’s warm approach to Russia – along with investigations into whether his campaign colluded with the Kremlin to meddle in the 2016 election – has many lawmakers uneasy about leaving the country’s sanctions policy to the president alone. But Democrats said they do not trust that GOP leaders are serious about the effort – and are now worried a recent change to the bill would effectively rob them of their ability to raise objections to Trump’s moves in the future.

The text of the bill initially passed by the Senate made clear that any resolution filed to block a presidential action on Russian sanctions would receive a House floor vote, meaning the majority party could not bottle it up.

But House Republican leaders raised procedural objections to the bill after it passed the Senate and demanded revisions – including one that effectively removed that guarantee, prompting Democrats this week to threaten to block the bill.

House Democrats say this latest change is another example of Republicans trying to protect Trump.

But House Democrats’ refusal to back the legislation as it stands is giving Republicans an opportunity to claim that Democrats are the ones blocking the bill over a technicality.