Senate set to pass Russia sanctions, rebuffing White House

Congress is on the verge of delivering Donald Trump the first big bipartisan rebuke of his presidency.

The Senate is seeking unanimous consent to pass a bipartisan sanctions bill targeting Russia, Iran, and North Korea as soon as Thursday. That move would send to Trump’s desk a measure that constrains his bid to defrost relations with Moscow by allowing Congress to block any attempt to ease or end penalties against Vladimir Putin’s government.

The House passed the sanctions package on Tuesday in an overwhelming 419-3 vote, and an intra-GOP squabble that threatened to delay its passage was quickly resolved Wednesday night. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) predicted Thursday that passage in his chamber "would be very soon," perhaps as soon as later in the day unless any senator on either side of the aisle raises an objection.

"We are prepared to move this legislation by unanimous consent at any time," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the floor Thursday. The only no votes during the Senate’s initial consideration of Russia and Iran sanctions last month were Kentucky Republican Rand Paul and Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders.

Passage of the sanctions bill has drawn no Democratic objections, according to a senior aide to the minority. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not immediately return a request for comment on whether there are any lingering GOP objections to quick passage of the sanctions bill.

The White House has avoided taking a clear position on the sanctions legislation all week, with communications director Anthony Scaramucci telling CNN on Thursday that Trump "may sign the sanctions exactly the way they are, or he may veto the sanctions and negotiate an even tougher deal against the Russians."

Corker, a longtime ally of the Trump administration, said he has talked to both the president and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about the sanctions bill in recent days and "gotten no indication from them that they plan to veto it."

"It’s just not a good way to start a presidency to veto something and then be soundly overridden," Corker told reporters. "It wouldn’t be something I would do, but they may choose to do it."

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