July 22 (UPI) — Congressional leaders have agreed on legislation that would toughen sanctions against Russia and has support from what is expected to be a veto-proof majority of both the House and Senate.
Senators had previously agreed on a similar bill and approved it 98-2, but it was nullified under the constitutional provision that legislation raising revenue must originate in the House.
The legislation also requires the president to seek congressional authority for loosening sanctions, essentially forcing President Donald Trump — and all future presidents — to continue enforcing sanctions against Russia until Congress decides otherwise. The White House unsuccessfully lobbied Republican leadership to strip that provision from the bill.
The legislation was drafted in response to what the U.S. intelligence community has said was a wide-ranging plan by Russian agents at the direction of President Vladimir Putin to interject Russian interests into the U.S. presidential election.
What followed were Internet hacks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee and high-ranking officials in the Hillary Clinton campaign, most notably campaign chairman John Podesta. The Russians then systematically leaked sensitive information to maximize the damage to Clinton and the Democrats, intelligence agents say.
Though at first he dismissed the accusations against Russian hacking as conjecture, Trump eventually said he agreed with the intelligence findings. He has called the subsequent investigations into the matter, and whether any members of his campaign colluded with the Russians in that effort, a “witch hunt.”
The House is expected to vote on the Russia sanctions legislation Tuesday. The Senate is expected to take up the matter sometime next month. If the legislation produces the broad bipartisan support leaders from both parties predicted, it would force Trump to sign it or face the political embarrassment of Congress overriding his veto.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has lobbied against Congress codifying sanctions, saying the administration needed the “flexibility” of strengthening or easing sanctions depending on the status of international deliberations over Ukraine, Syria and other issues.
The administration has at times demonstrated a willingness to take a tougher tack against Russia via sanctions.
In June, the Treasury Department added 38 more Russian officials and entities to its list of individuals banned from doing business in the United States, a strategy first employed by the Obama administration in an effort to directly pressure Putin’s inner circle. The Trump administration’s increased Russia sanctions came after continued violence in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have waged a guerrilla campaign against the Ukrainian military since 2014.