Trump administration officials met with Hill aides last week on Russia sanctions
Officials from the State and Treasury Departments met with both Republican and Democratic congressional aides last week to express concerns about the Senate’s Russia sanctions bill, two senior congressional staffers confirmed to CNN.
John E. Smith, director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, and other Treasury and State Department officials met with congressional aides from the offices of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and the Foreign Affairs and Financial Services Committees, according to the staffers.
The administration officials, who were career civil servants, expressed concerns during the meeting about the congressional review provisions in the bill, which would give Congress veto power if the White House tries to loosen sanctions on Russia, according to the staffers. The aides noted, however, that the Executive Branch might object to similar provisions.
A senior GOP leadership aide said that there has been a White House effort to “educate” Hill Republicans on their concerns with the bill.
The Treasury meeting was first reported by The Daily Beast.
Marc Short, Trump’s director of legislative affairs, said earlier Monday “the administration is fully supportive of (current Iran and Russia) sanctions.”
“What 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 a part of sanctions bills in the past,” he said.
Stripping those create a “challenge” for the administration, and so “the way its currently drafted is something that neither a Democratic or Republican administration would support.”
The House and Senate have been fighting over the Russia sanctions bill since it passed the Senate last month, 98-2. Before recess, the Senate passed a new version of the bill to address House concerns about a “blue slip” violation, over the constitutional requirement that revenue bills begin in the House.
Multiple House GOP aides say there are a couple of snags that are currently being discussed at the leadership level.
One is a concern that Democrats have raised about making the review process for sanctions essentially equal in the House and Senate.
House Democrats say the technical tweaks the Senate made last month make it more difficult to bring a review resolution to a vote in the House.
“There are serious concerns about the process proposed by House Republicans that would limit Congress’s oversight role over the administration’s implementation of sanctions,” Hoyer said. “Under this process, only the Speaker of the House — rather than any member of the House — can force consideration of whether to allow the administration to waive sanctions. This is different from the Senate process, where any member can do so; the House ought to have the same authority.”
The second issue is addressing concerns which some energy companies are raising. They say language in the bill adds burdensome disclosure requirements that could put them at a competitive disadvantage with non-US companies working on international deals. There is some hope that they can add an administrative fix to address these concerns without making legislative changes that would force yet another Senate vote on the bill.
One senior GOP House aide familiar with the discussions tells CNN that the House Foreign Affairs Committee supports moving ahead quickly with the bill that passed the Senate, and Chairman Ed Royce’s “patience is going to run out at some point.”
“If things get bogged down, he’s not ruled out introducing his own sanctions bill,” the aide told CNN, adding that a new bill from the California Republican “would probably be tougher than what the Senate passed.”