Republican senator dismisses procedural claims on Russia sanctions bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Monday that if the House of Representatives does not pass a Russian sanctions bill, it is because members do not want to impose new sanctions, not because of a procedural issue cited by Republican leaders in the House.

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) speaks to reporters about the Senate healthcare bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

“There is no issue, except do they want to pass a Russia sanctions bill or not,” Senator Bob Corker told reporters at the U.S. Senate.

The Senate passed the sanctions measure by 98-2 on June 15, but it has been stalled in the House, where President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans hold a larger majority than in the Senate.

House Republican leaders insisted the delay was purely because the bill violated a constitutional requirement that legislation affecting government revenues must originate in the House, not the Senate.

They also blamed Democrats for holding it up.

Democrats, and some Republicans, scoffed. They said the bill could have been fixed and passed in the House in a matter of minutes.

Trump administration officials said they disagree with provisions in the bill requiring the president to get Congress’ permission before easing any sanctions, and the fact that many of the new sanctions are mandatory, so that the president cannot opt to waive them for national security reasons.

Some Republicans have also echoed concerns raised by U.S. energy firms and European governments that the legislation could complicate investment in Russian energy projects, and potentially cost industry jobs.

Corker said the bill was written to allow the Trump administration to address energy-related issues. And he said any White House would prefer to conduct foreign policy without Congress, but the administration had not asked him to kill the bill.

“No one has called me and said, ‘We don’t want this legislation to pass.’ That has never occurred,” Corker said.

Lawmakers and aides said administration officials had held meetings in Congress in the past few weeks to express their concerns about the measure.

The Senate passed the bill a second time by unanimous consent on June 29, with a “fix” to address the procedural issue, but it has still not been taken up by the House.

House Republicans said on Monday that the Senate change had not satisfied the procedural concern and that the Senate would have to change it and vote again.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler