The White House is seeking to change a Senate bill imposing tough new sanctions on Russia so it doesn't constrain the president's authority to impose or waive sanctions, a top White House official said on July 10.
The bill to impose new sanctions on Russia for allegedly meddling in the U.S. election and other matters passed the Senate overwhelmingly but has been stalled in the House of Representatives. The bill also imposes new sanctions on Iran.
Marc Short, the White House legislative director, told reporters that the administration backs the new sanctions on Russia and Iran, but it objects to a provision giving Congress a much greater say on sanctions.
That provision would require a congressional review if President Donald Trump attempts to ease or end the bill's penalties against Moscow.
"Our concern is that the legislation, we believe, sets an unusual precedent of delegating foreign policy to 535 members of Congress by not including certain national security waivers that have always been consistently part of sanctions bills in the past," Short said.
Axios reported that the White House is concerned that the bill would "tie Trump's hands" in negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia and the United States recently kicked off negotiations aimed at forging a broader peace in Syria.
"This bill is so poorly written that neither Republican nor Democratic administrations would be comfortable with the current draft because it greatly hampers the executive branch's diplomatic efforts," Short told Axios.
The objection was first raised by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said in testimony last month that Trump needs to retain "the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation" with Russia.
AP reported that officials from the Treasury and State departments met last week with House congressional staff to voice their concerns over the congressional review provision, which they said infringes on the president's executive authority.
But weakening that provision likely would provoke resistance from congressional Democrats and some Republicans.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, who was instrumental in drafting the bill, views the review requirement as a proper exercise of congressional authority.
Corker told reporters on July 10 that it's not unusual for a White House to resist congressional oversight of foreign policy. But he said the sanctions review requirement is a "very important" part of the legislation.
"Any administration would prefer to conduct foreign policy 100 percent without involvement from Congress," Corker said. But he said no Trump administration official has contacted him to say "we don't want this legislation to pass. That has never occurred."
The bill is also opposed by the powerful American Petroleum Institute, which represents U.S. oil companies. It opposes the measure's expansion of an existing prohibition on U.S. energy companies being involved in new Russian energy projects.
That existing sanction would be expanded to bar U.S. firms from participating in projects all over the world in which Russian energy firms participate.
The petroleum association said the expansion would penalize U.S. oil companies, not just Russian companies, and cost them potentially billions of dollars in jobs and economic activity.
The National Foreign Trade Council, a business group, has also objected to the expanded energy sanctions, saying they would prevent U.S. oil companies from competing in mot export markets while rivals in China and Europe would not be equally constrained.
Axios reported that the administration has taken up the cause of the oil industry in arguing behind the scenes against the bill in Congress,
It also reported that the White House is worried about the political dilemma the bill poses for Trump, if it is passed by the House.
"The nightmare scenario for the White House," Axios reported, is "Trump is forced to either sign the bill, which would make it impossible to establish a broader cooperative relationship with Putin, or veto the bill and risk a two-thirds majority in Congress overriding his wishes."
With reporting by AP, Axios, The Hill, and Washington Examiner