01:15 - Source: CNN
Tillerson says sanctions to remain on Russia

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Congress hopes to approve the bill and put it on the President's desk before it breaks for the August recess

House Democrats raised objections over the scope of the review process

Washington CNN —  

House and Senate leaders are close to an agreement on a bipartisan Russian sanctions package and could announce a deal as early as Friday afternoon, according to three sources familiar with the negotiations.

Congress hopes to approve the bill and put it on the President’s desk before it breaks for the August recess.

Bipartisan negotiators are finalizing some tweaks to several areas of the bill, including details on Congress’ power to enforce sanctions and changes that were added at the request of US businesses who expressed concerns the current bill could put them at a competitive disadvantage.

The vote on the major sanctions package comes as the Trump Administration is dealing with multiple probes into allegations the President’s campaign colluded with Russian officials during the 2016 election campaign.

The Trump administration pushed for weakening the provisions in the bill giving Congress veto power if the administration eased Russia sanctions, but that provision is included in the agreement with just a clarifying change.

The Senate passed a bill 98-2 last month, but the legislation was stalled over procedural disputes in the House. Outside business groups and several US energy, auto, aerospace, manufacturing and banking companies have also lobbied both chambers to narrow several provisions in the bill, arguing the measure could inadvertently penalize them for business deals that would be snagged in new sanctions.

House Democrats raised objections over the scope of the review process, which gives Congress veto power if the administration tries to ease sanctions. The Democrats wanted to go further and add language that would allow members other than the speaker of the House to offer a resolution of disapproval if the administration was failing to enforce sanctions.

The revised bill clarifies which areas Congress can bring up for votes. GOP members were concerned that opening up the review procedures could result in the House and Senate getting bogged down on technical issues. Some expressed concerns it would mean Congress would have to vote on approving or blocking licenses for US businesses, an authority many want to remain with the Treasury Department.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has also been pushed to attach an already-passed North Korea sanctions bill to the package, which will be part of the agreement, according to the sources. Members on both sides agree that the latest missile tests merit a muscular response from Congress and the House already passed that legislation in May, 419-1.

Adding the North Korean sanctions, as well as the other changes, will require the Senate to pass the sanctions package for a third time. The House already raised one technical issue with the original bill which triggered a second Senate vote at the end of June.

One Republican source familiar with the process stresses that the final bill will amount to an “unprecedented” sanctions package. The measure also includes sanctions on Iran, but in terms of giving Congress oversight over new Russian penalties, the source said the bill is “far stronger than any review component agreed to on Iran.”

To respond to concerns from energy companies, the agreement reached will ensure that new sanctions do not affect a major pipeline used to transport oil from Kazakhstan through Russia to Ukraine. Those who wanted that change argued that this pipeline has been helping Ukraine lessen its dependence on Russian oil, and if it was covered would undermine not just US oil companies, but national security priorities.

The bill similarly addresses a natural gas pipeline that goes between Russia and Germany. German officials warned Congress that the legislation could have ensnared sanctions on their government or businesses at a time when the country was working with the US in the region.

The revised bill also clarifies that American companies cannot do business with already sanctioned defense interests in Russia. There were concerns that US companies wanting to finalize transportation deals could be barred under the current bill. The agreement includes language instructing the Treasury Department to create a list of Russians in the intelligence and defense sectors subject to sanctions.

The Trump administration has lobbied Congress to weaken several provisions in the bill, but sources tell CNN that any potential veto threat would be a bad idea because it’s expected that the bipartisan Russian sanctions deal will be approved by veto-proof majorities in both chambers.