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U.S. House Approves Russian Sanctions Bill; White House Softens Objections

U.S. President Donald Trump has previously objected to the bill's limits on presidential sanctions powers.
U.S. President Donald Trump has previously objected to the bill's limits on presidential sanctions powers.

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on July 25 to cement sanctions against Russia into law and curb President Donald Trump's authority to ease those sanctions.

Despite objecting to the bill's limits on presidential powers previously, the White House did not immediately signal that Trump would veto the bill but rather said Trump would wait to see what legislation finally clears Congress.

Different versions of the bill have passed both the House and Senate with far more than the two-thirds margin needed to overcome a veto.

House members backed the bill's tough new sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korea on July 25 by 419-3, with strong support from Trump's fellow Republicans as well as Democrats.

Though a similar bill passed the Senate with 98 votes last month, Senate leaders could not say when they will act on the House version of the bill. Some senators reportedly have objected to the House's inclusion of sanctions against North Korea, which were not part of the original Senate bill.

The White House after the House vote said Trump hasn't decided whether to sign the legislation but appeared to soften previous objections to the bill's requirement that Congress review any presidential decision to ease sanctions against Russia.

"The president supports tough sanctions on North Korea, Iran, and Russia," said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who added that the "White House is reviewing the House legislation and awaits a final legislative package for the president’s desk."

An overwhelming majority of House members saw the legislation as a way to register their displeasure with Russia's alleged attempts to interfere in last year's presidential election as well as its aggression in Ukraine and Syria.

"It is well past time that we forcibly respond," said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (Republican-California). "Left unchecked, Russia is sure to continue its aggression."

House Speaker Paul Ryan (Republican-Wisconsin) said the sanctions package "tightens the screws on our most dangerous adversaries in order to keep Americans safe."

Even members of Trump's Republican party saw the bill as a mild rebuff of what they saw as overly eager overtures to improve relations with Russia.

Trump's "rhetoric toward the Russians has been far too accommodating and conciliatory, up to this point," said Representative Charlie Dent (Republican- Pennsylvania).

"Russian behavior has been atrocious," he said. "They deserve these enhanced sanctions. Relations with Russia will improve when Russian behavior changes and they start to fall back into the family of nations."

Under the bill, Trump is required to send Congress a report explaining why he wants to suspend or terminate any of the bill's sanctions on Russia. Lawmakers would then have 30 days to decide whether to allow him to act.

The sanctions bill has drawn criticism from European Union allies, who have warned it could end up penalizing European firms that work with Russia on joint energy projects like the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to carry natural gas from Russia to Europe under the Baltic Sea.

House leaders said they tweaked language in the bill to try to address those concerns, but it was not clear whether they had succeeded in doing so.

The bill's sanctions on North Korea bar ships owned by Pyongyang or by countries that refuse to comply with UN sanctions against North Korea from operating in American waters or docking at U.S. ports. Goods produced by North Korea's forced labor would be prohibited from entering the United States.

The sanctions against Iran impose mandatory penalties on people involved in Iran's ballistic-missile program and anyone who does business with them. The measure would designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization and enforce an arms embargo against Iran.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
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