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House Votes To Impose New Russia Sanctions — And Also Tie Trump's Hands

Jul 25, 2017
Originally published on July 25, 2017 7:09 pm

Updated: 7:26 p.m.

The House overwhelmingly passed a sanctions bill on Tuesday that would punish Russia for interfering in the 2016 election and tie President Trump's hands in terms of lifting economic restrictions on Moscow.

The bill would also impose sanctions on North Korea and Iran for their respective weapons programs.

The vote was lopsided: 419-3.

"There's been a lot of doubt about whether this Congress would ever speak eloquently and forcefully about Russian behavior — today we answered that question," said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., on the House floor before the vote.

"Overwhelmingly, we say Russia's behavior is unacceptable in many, many ways."

The bill's supporters say that includes the election interference described by the American intelligence community — but still sometimes questioned by Trump — as well as Russia's annexation of Crimea and sponsorship of warfare in Eastern Ukraine.

The legislation slaps Moscow with new financial restrictions on doing business with American entities while also restricting Trump's ability to waive those penalties. Often, a president has a freer hand in dealing with foreign governments, but the bill deliberately takes away that discretion.

To waive sanctions on Russia, Trump would have to send Congress a report explaining and justifying his decision, and lawmakers would then get 30 days to decide whether to allow it.

The vote puts Trump in an awkward position. He raised eyebrows from his first days on the campaign trail by expressing a desire to improve the U.S.- Russia relationship. He and his staff have specifically expressed an openness to easing sanctions.

"I believe an easing of tensions, and improved relations with Russia from a position of strength only, is possible, absolutely possible," Trump said last year at a campaign speech in Washington.

Trump also met with Russian President Vladimir Putin twice earlier this month while in Hamburg, Germany, for the Group of 20 summit, including a chat that went longer than two hours.

Administration officials had previously signaled that Trump would sign the sanctions bill — it appears to have a veto-proof majority in both houses of Congress — but press secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement Tuesday that said it might depend on the details.

"While the president supports tough sanctions on North Korea, Iran and Russia, the White House is reviewing the House legislation and awaits a final legislative package for the President's desk," she said.

The bill now moves to the Senate, but it's unclear when the upper chamber will take it up.

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