Haley Byrd/Independent Journal Review
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) questioned explanations behind the slow pace of a bill he sponsored to impose tougher sanctions on Russia and Iran that passed almost unanimously in the Senate last month, and called for House lawmakers to resolve their differences to move forward on the measure Monday night.
The Russia sanctions debate is confusing, complex, and a procedural mess. Senators initially passed a bill to impose the sanctions in June, but House legislators found it violated a constitutional requirement. That problem was addressed, but hurdles remain.
AshLee Strong, national press secretary for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), told Independent Journal Review on Monday that House Democrats were holding up the bill by demanding changes.
Those changes relate to rules allowing the minority party in the House to offer a motion of disapproval on White House actions affecting U.S. policy with Russia, a fix Corker said has agreement among lawmakers from both parties and could be made quickly.
Corker pointed to a speck of dust on the floor and told reporters that focusing on the procedural issues used to explain the House's slow going on Russia sanctions would be like focusing on the speck of dust.
“The issue is, is the House going to take up Russia sanctions or not?” Corker said. "These other things are like you have a hair out of place. It’s nothing.”
If you're still confused, IJR asked it in plain terms: “So you're saying this is entirely up to Paul Ryan, and he could put it on the floor?”
“Absolutely. One thousand percent,” Corker answered. “The decision comes down to one thing. Does the House want to take up Russia sanctions or not? Period.”
But to go around Democrats on the issue of moving the bill back to the Senate for approval, which is usually accomplished through unanimous consent, would be to challenge longstanding House precedent.
“House Republicans are prepared to send the Iran-Russia sanctions bill papers back, which will allow the Senate to automatically resend us a fixed bill, but House Democrats are blocking that and demanding their own changes to the bill,” Strong wrote in an email.
There are other pressures on the passage of the bill, too.
The Daily Beast broke the news Monday that the Trump administration has been pushing back on the bill's provisions to grant Congress the power to review presidential efforts to ease sanctions on countries like Russia.
President Donald Trump has indicated a desire to work more closely with Russia following his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 Summit last week, and stricter sanctions wouldn't bolster that position.
Still, Russia sanctions have broad bipartisan agreement among lawmakers in both houses of Congress, and would likely pass with enough support to override a potential veto from the White House.
Corker said he's spoken with Speaker Ryan several times on the subject and believes Ryan wants to pass the bill — but the timeline is up in the air.
“All they've got to do is send it over here,” Corker said.
This post has been updated as IJR has obtained more information, and to clarify a quote from Sen. Corker.