With a pause on Capitol Hill because of the July 4th recess, many are taking stock of the prospects for the Senate passed legislation intended to dramatically expand sanctions on Russia. Specifically, a bipartisan group of Senators reached a compromise to combine several pending Russia-related measures and attach them as an amendment to S.722 - The Countering Iran's Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017. For complete details on the extensive new Russia restrictions contained in the bill, please see Crowell & Moring’s June 19 Client Alert.
The Senate bill passed with a margin of 98-2 and appeared on track for quick approval in the House. However, it was sent back to the Senate last week after the House Parliamentarian objected because the bill ran afoul of the Origination Clause of the Constitution which requires the House to act before the Senate on any bill which raises revenue. With a few technical changes on the eve of the recess, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) submitted a resolution correcting the bill, sending it back to the House for consideration.
The House will take up the bill on the 11th when it returns. Prospects for the bill in the House are cloudy, given not only the otherwise full agenda (including health care and tax reform), but also what appears to be growing opposition among House members to boxing President Trump into a very difficult position on Russia. Other objections are surfacing; including pushback from Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX) who is uncomfortable with the new energy restrictions, believing it could hurt energy companies. Many are awaiting details on this objection, before assessing its weight and validity.
The Trump administration fears the measure will complicate its ability to conduct diplomacy because the bill limits the president’s power to act on sanctions without congressional authorization. If it does pass the House, the administration has not ruled out a veto. If forced to have to consider a veto, Trump would be hard pressed to rely, no matter how much historical precedent there may be, on the valid concerns about constraints being placed on the office of the presidency, because a veto could be perceived as being “soft” on Russia.