U.S. Democrats in new bid to push Russia and Iran sanctions bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives plan to introduce a new version of a Russia and Iran sanctions bill on Wednesday, to send a message to President Donald Trump to maintain a strong line against Moscow.

Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said they would introduce a sanctions bill identical to one that passed the Senate on June 15.

“It’s identical to the Senate-passed bill,” a Democratic committee aide said, but since it will be labeled as a House bill it would avoid a procedural issue that prompted House Republican leaders to send the measure back to the Senate.

Democrats accused House Republicans of stalling the bill in order to weaken it after the Trump administration expressed concern about provisions setting up a process for Congress to approve any of Trump’s efforts to ease sanctions on Moscow.

Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Tuesday that news of a meeting between Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and a Russian attorney, and the failure to disclose it, added new urgency to the push to pass a Russian sanctions bill.

Cardin said the bill should also be passed because of Russia’s occupation of parts of Ukraine and Georgia and support of the Syrian government.

Trump’s attempts to mend relations with Russia have been hindered by allegations that Moscow interfered in last year’s U.S. presidential election and colluded with Trump’s campaign. Russia denies meddling in the election and Trump says there was no collusion.

Emails released on Tuesday show that Donald Trump Jr. eagerly agreed last year to meet a woman he was told was a Russian government lawyer who might have damaging information about Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday said he wants to move a strong bill regarding sanctions on Russia as quickly as possible but that the legislation still faced procedural and policy hurdles.

“Right now, we have a procedural issue,” and Republicans are working with Democrats regarding sending the bill back to the Senate, Ryan told reporters at a news conference. “There are some policy issues with respect to making sure that we don’t actually inadvertently help Russian oligarchs and oil firms.”

There was no immediate response from Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee on whether they would support the Democratic effort.

The Russia sanctions legislation was written as an amendment to a bill imposing new sanctions on Iran over issues including its ballistic missile program. Besides establishing the review process, it puts into law sanctions previously imposed on Moscow via presidential executive order and introduces new sanctions.

Additional reporting by Amanda Becker and Susan Heavey; Editing by Jonathan Oatis

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