US congress to vote on Russia sanctions package that defies Donald Trump

US congress to vote on Russia sanctions package that defies Donald Trump

Russia, Sanctions, Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump

The Republican-led House is to vote on a sweeping Russia sanctions package that defies the White House by demanding Donald Trump gets Congress’s permission before lifting or easing penalties against Moscow.

Politicians are scheduled to consider the sanctions package as early as Tuesday, and the bill could be sent to Mr Trump before Congress breaks for the August recess.

The legislation is aimed at punishing Moscow for meddling in the presidential election and its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria.

Congressional Republicans and Democrats announced on Saturday that they had settled lingering issues with the bill, which also includes stiff economic penalties against Iran and North Korea.

The sanctions targeting Russia, however, have drawn the most attention due to Mr Trump’s push for warmer relations with President Vladimir Putin and ongoing investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign.

“North Korea, Iran and Russia have in different ways all threatened their neighbours and actively sought to undermine American interests,” according to a joint statement by California Republicans Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, and Ed Royce of California, the Foreign Affairs Committee chairman.

The bill the House will vote on, they said, “will now exclusively focus on these nations and hold them accountable for their dangerous actions”.

But the bill’s pending passage by the House and Senate puts Capitol Hill on possible collision course with Mr Trump.

The White House has objected to a key section of the bill that would mandate a congressional review if Mr Trump attempts to terminate the sanctions against Moscow.

Top administration officials have said the provisions infringe on the president’s executive authority and may tie his hands as he explores avenues of cooperation between the two former Cold War foes.

If Mr Trump were to veto the bill, he risks sparking an outcry from Republicans and Democrats and having his decision overturned.

Indeed, the sanctions review was included in the bill because of wariness among lawmakers from both parties over Mr Trump’s affinity for Mr Putin.

Eliot Engel of New York, the top ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said Mr Trump has been unwilling to respond seriously to Russia’s belligerence, “leaving Congress with the urgent responsibility to hold Vladimir Putin accountable”.

Mr McCarthy had pushed to add the North Korea sanctions to the package. The House had overwhelmingly passed legislation in May to hit Pyongyang with additional economic penalties, but the Senate had yet to take up the bill.

The Senate last month passed sanctions legislation that targeted only Russia and Iran.

Congressional aides said Senate Republicans may resist adding the North Korea penalties, but it remained unclear whether those concerns would derail the legislation.

Although the legislations has widespread support, the bill stalled after clearing the Senate more than five weeks ago due to constitutional questions and bickering over technical details.

The House and Senate negotiators addressed concerns voiced by American oil and natural gas companies that sanctions specific to Russia’s energy sector could backfire on them to Moscow’s benefit. The bill raises the threshold for when US firms would be prohibited from being part of energy projects that also included Russian businesses.

Mr McCarthy and Mr Royce said other revisions resolved concerns that the sanctions could have unintentionally complicated the ability of America’s European allies to maintain access to energy resources outside Russia.



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