Senate’s bipartisan Russia sanctions bill delayed in House

The House has found a potential constitutional issue with the Senate’s recently passed sanctions package targeting Russia and Iran, raising the prospect of a delay that could allow President Donald Trump’s White House to secure its preferred changes to the bill.

The House has held off on referring the sanctions bill to a committee, a GOP aide said Tuesday, while staff reviews whether it runs afoul of a requirement in the U.S. Constitution that any revenue-raising legislation start in the lower chamber. The so-called "blue-slip" issue could slow the momentum of the Senate’s bipartisan bill — which passed 98-2 and includes new handcuffs on Trump’s ability to ease penalties against Russia.

A stuck Russia sanctions bill would help the White House, which planned to ask its House GOP allies for a different approach that would preserve Trump’s power to work on more collaborative relations with Vladimir Putin’s government. Democrats slammed the House GOP’s constitutional concerns as an attempt to water down or stop legislation that would constrain Trump.

“House Republicans are considering using a procedural excuse to hide what they’re really doing: covering for a president who has been far too soft on Russia," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s top Democrat, New York Rep. Eliot Engel, described the Republican "blue-slip" review as "nothing but a delay tactic, and the public shouldn’t be fooled by complex-sounding parliamentary procedure. If Republican leadership says we can’t act on the Senate bill, here’s an easy solution: Let’s introduce an identical House version and we can vote on that instead."

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a chief architect of his chamber’s popular sanctions deal, told reporters Tuesday that "we think we addressed" any constitutional hurdles but that he would follow up on the issue, which was first reported by the Washington Post.

“Anytime there’s issues relative to money or spending, obviously you’ve got to deal with" blue-slip concerns, Corker added.

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the foreign relations panel, echoed Engel in calling on the House to pass their own version of the sanctions bill or add its language to another House bill to resolve the problem.

"They have plenty of vehicles," Cardin told reporters, "so it’s not a problem. I don’t think it’s a blue-slip issue."

The sanctions bill also imposes new penalties on entities connected to Iran’s ballistic missile program as well as Tehran’s human rights violations and support for terrorist groups. The Russia provisions added to the package would allow Congress to block Trump from easing or ending sanctions against Moscow, while adding new punishment in a direct response to cyberattacks during the 2016 election — meddling that Trump has previously dismissed.

An aide on House Foreign Affairs said that the panel would work with GOP leadership and other committees of jurisdiction on the constitutional issue with the Senate’s sanctions legislation.

Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.

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