As President Donald Trump prepares to meet Vladimir Putin on Friday, a bipartisan congressional attempt to constrain Trump’s ability to warm up to Russia is running into new trouble.
The Senate relented last month on a fix to the sanctions bill after House Republicans raised constitutional concerns with it. But on Thursday, House Democrats objected to speedy consideration of the fix — opening a new partisan schism as Trump prepares to potentially forge a new, more cooperative relationship with Putin during their bilateral meeting at the G-20 summit in Germany.
At issue in the ongoing dispute over the bill, which imposes new sanctions on Russia and Iran, is the impact of the House’s proposed fix. Even though the Senate agreed to changes that Democrats on that side of the Capitol described as merely technical, House Democrats disagree.
"House Republicans are prepared to send the Iran-Russia sanctions bill papers back, which will allow the Senate to automatically resend us a fixed bill, but House Democrats are blocking that and demanding their own changes to the bill," AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, wrote in an email.
Two House Democratic aides told POLITICO that Thursday’s hurdle arose because the agreed-upon fix would weaken a key provision in the sanctions bill — empowering Congress to block Trump from ending or easing sanctions against Moscow. The proposed fix, according to the Democratic aides, would make it harder for the House minority to force a vote blocking Trump’s sanctions policy by no longer treating any disapproval measure as a privileged resolution.
"Stalling the Russia sanctions bill is just the latest outrage in House Republicans’ long-running complicity in the Trump White House’s weakness toward Putin," Ashley Etienne, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, wrote in an email. "While Putin and President Trump meet privately, the American people are left to ask why Republicans are more concerned with Russia’s interests than the integrity of our democracy."
Another Democratic aide acknowledged that their Senate counterparts might not have seen the tweak as substantive because it did not affect the upper chamber’s ability to handcuff Trump.
The White House already has said it plans to seek Trump-friendly changes to the Senate’s version, beyond the procedural changes currently fueling the partisan clash.
If Trump emerges from his meeting with Putin having agreed to a more cooperative relationship on anti-terrorist operations, Democrats are preparing for the administration to make more overt moves to kill or weaken the sanctions bill in the House.
Rachael Bade contributed to this report.