U.S. Senate leaders have called on the House of Representatives to vote on the Senate's bill to impose new sanctions on Russia and Iran even as the legislation hit a roadblock in the House.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain said on June 20 the House should vote as soon as possible on the measure, which responds to alleged Russian meddling in the election, predicting that the legislation would pass overwhelmingly in the House, just as it did in the Senate last week.
"We all know that the Russians tried to interfere in our elections," McCain said. "Here we are six months later and we've done nothing."
Yet instead of building on the momentum created by the Senate's 98-2 vote for the sweeping sanctions package, the Republican leadership in the House sent it to the Foreign Affairs Committee for review.
Moreover, House leaders said that their parliamentarian has discovered a problem with the bill -- it violates a requirement in the U.S. Constitution that any legislation that raises revenue for the government must originate in the House.
The constitutional flaw means the bill might have to be sent back to the Senate, where its revenue-raising provisions -- which were not identified -- would have to be stripped from the measure before it could be sent back to the House for a vote.
Democrats suggested that Republicans raised the procedural issue to stall the bill out of loyalty to President Donald Trump, whose administration has criticized the sanctions package as potentially too restrictive against Russia.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said House Republicans need to pass the sanctions bill "as quickly as possible."
"Responding to Russia's assault on our democracy should be a bipartisan issue that unites both Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate," Schumer said.
The Russian sanctions were attached by the Senate to a bill toughening sanctions against Iran. The Iranian provisions are also strongly supported in Congress but have engendered less debate.
Senator Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said, "I think the House Republicans are lukewarm and the White House is cold when it comes to Russia sanctions."
Representative Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he's concerned that the delays will give the Trump administration an opportunity to weaken the legislation.
"Anything short of an up-or-down vote on this tough sanctions package is an attempt to let Russia off the hook," Engel said.
But Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said he's confident there is "strong interest" in the House for passing Russia sanctions legislation that's similar to the Senate bill.
"I don't want to in any way state how they should go about doing their business," Corker said. "They don't do that with us."
AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, said Ryan believes Congress must do more to hold Russia responsible. She said that "we will determine a path ahead in the House" after the Foreign Affairs Committee's review is complete.
The committee's chairman, Representative Ed Royce, has said he is working to build bipartisan support for sanctions over what he called "Russia's dangerous activities" during the election.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has offered only lukewarm support for the Senate bill. Tillerson said during congressional testimony last week that Trump needed to have "the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation" with Russia.
An overly aggressive sanctions bill, Tillerson suggested, could lead Moscow to shut off potentially promising talks with Washington.
The sanctions package approved by the Senate is aimed at rebuking Russia for what U.S. intelligence agencies concluded was a covert campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election to favor Trump.
The legislation also contains new sanctions against Russians backing the separatist war in eastern Ukraine and those responsible for arming Syria in its five-year civil war. The bill would also cement into law existing sanctions against Russia and require a congressional review if Trump attempts to ease existing sanctions.
With reporting by AP and Reuters