US lawmakers reach deal on Russia sanctions bill, creating limits for Trump

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said a strong sanctions bill “is essential.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said a strong sanctions bill “is essential.” PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US Republicans and Democrats have reached agreement on legislation that allows new sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea, leading congressional Democrats said on Saturday (July 22), in a bill that would limit any potential effort by President Donald Trump to try to lift sanctions against Moscow. 

The Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act, which was passed by the Senate a month ago, was held up in the House of Representatives after Republicans proposed including North Korea sanctions in the bill. 

The House is set to vote on Tuesday on a package of bills on sanctions covering Russia, Iran and North Korea, according to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office. 

Under the proposed bill, Trump must submit to Congress a report on proposed actions that would “significantly alter” US foreign policy in connection with Russia, including easing sanctions or returning diplomatic properties in Maryland and New York that former President Barack Obama ordered vacated in December. 

Congress could then vote to uphold or reject Trump’s proposed changes.  Many lawmakers hope the bill will send a message to Trump to keep a strong line against Russia. 

Trump, who met Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg earlier this month and said it was an “honor” to meet him, has been criticized for seeking to reset US-Russian relations.

His administration has been bogged down by ongoing investigations of possible ties between his 2016 campaign and Russia. 

With the bill, Republicans and Democrats are seeking to punish Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea, a peninsula belong to Ukraine, and for meddling in the 2016 presidential election.  Putin has denied any meddling in the US democratic process last year.

Trump has said that his campaign did not collude with Russia.  House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Russia’s“outrageous and unacceptable” behavior in the 2016 US election and in Europe “demand that we have strong statutory sanctions enacted as soon as possible.”

Even so, she expressed concerns that by including North Korea the legislation could face procedural delays in the Senate.  Senior Republican lawmakers did not immediately comment on the latest bill.  In Brussels, the European Union sounded an alarm about the US moves to step up sanctions on Russia, urging Washington to coordinate with its Group of 7 partners. 

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said a strong sanctions bill “is essential.”

“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,” Schumer said in a statement. 

Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the agreement was reached after“intense negotiations.”

“A nearly united Congress is poised to send President Putin a clear message on behalf of the American people and our allies, and we need President Trump to help us deliver that message,” he said in a statement.