The Senate passed the Russia sanctions bill 98-2 last week
The House hasn't decided whether it will take up the Senate-passed version or make changes to it
The House has not decided yet what it plans to do with the Senate’s Russia sanctions bill, and Democrats are warning that House Republicans may be trying to stall the bill on behalf of the White House.
The Senate passed the Russia sanctions bill 98-2 last week, but the House hasn’t decided whether it will take up the Senate-passed version or make changes to it, a GOP aide told CNN. No action is expected on the bill until after the July 4 recess, according to the aide.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-TX, told reporters Tuesday that when the Senate sent the bill to the House, the parliamentarian determined that language added in the final version violated the “origination clause” of the Constitution. Under that clause, any legislation that deals with new revenue has to begin in the House. Any bill that comes over from Senate with this rules violation is labeled with what Congress calls a “blue slip” – meaning that it cannot be picked up by the House.
The Texas Republican stressed that he supports sanctions against Russia, but procedurally his hands are tied.
“I think the policies look very strong and very positive, but we are going to follow the Constitution,” he said.
But Democrats accused House Republican leaders of trying to stall – or kill – the bill using procedural tactics. In addition to the revenue issue, Democratic aides said the bill could be referred to four different committees, which would lead to a lengthy legislative process and potentially significant changes to the measure.
The Democratic aides said bills that pass with an overwhelming vote are rarely held up in committee and are typically fast-tracked to the floor.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer issued a statement Tuesday accusing House Republicans of “covering for a President who has been far too soft on Russia.”
“Responding to Russia’s assault on our democracy should be a bipartisan issue that unites both Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate,” Schumer said in a statement. “The House Republicans need to pass this bill as quickly as possible.”
New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, argued that the revenue issue could be easily resolved by passing an identical House version.
“This is nothing but a delay tactic and the public shouldn’t be fooled by complex-sounding parliamentary procedure,” Engel said in a statement. “I predict this isn’t the last excuse we’ll hear for trying to slow this bill’s momentum, but make no mistake, anything short of an up-or-down vote on this tough sanctions package is an attempt to let Russia off the hook.”
Brady made it clear that the language that caused the problem was not coordinated on with his panel or others, and he preferred that the Senate take the measure back, remove the language that ran afoul of the Rules and send a new version back to the House. If they don’t act, Brady said that he is working with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce to move the legislation.
Brady pushed back at Democrats accusing them of stalling action on a policy matter that the Trump Administration did not favor, saying, “the Constitution is pretty clear. Revenue measures have to start in the House.”
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, who played a key role in crafting the Russia sanctions agreement in the Senate, said he has spoken about the measure with Royce and Engel. Both were interested in taking up the measure, he said.
“I think from their individual standpoints, there’s a desire to cause what we passed or something like it to become law,” Corker said. “Obviously, referring it to four different committees could create some challenges, as we all know, but we’ll see.”
The Russia sanctions measure was added as an amendment to an Iran sanctions bill last week, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed concerns that it could impede efforts to improve relations with Russia.
Corker said he’s spoken to Tillerson about the bill and he said he hasn’t had resistance from the Trump administration, beyond wanting to ensure they “preserve their executive authorities.”