WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans are stalling a hugely popular bill to slap Iran and Russia with economic sanctions over a procedural issue that they're blaming the Senate for creating.
"The problem is the Senate screwed up," Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Wednesday.
At issue is a constitutional requirement that legislative measures involving revenue originate in the House. The sanctions bill was crafted by the Senate, which passed the measure overwhelmingly last week 98-2 and then sent it to the House for action.
McCarthy said the Senate can repair the bill or the House can write its own sanctions legislation. But he didn't provide a timetable for either pathway or specify the provisions in the Senate bill that caused the breach.
Democratic lawmakers and aides are mystified over the delay. They fear the House is seeking to water down the Russia-related portions of the bill at the Trump administration's behest. The sanctions aimed at Russia are intended to punish Moscow for meddling in the presidential election and for its aggressive actions in Ukraine and Syria.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has offered only lukewarm support for the Russia sanctions. He said during congressional testimony that President Donald Trump needs to have "the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation" with Russia. An overly aggressive sanctions bill, Tillerson has suggested, could lead Moscow to shut off potentially promising talks with Washington.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., accused House Republicans of dredging up the procedural issue, known in bureaucratese as a "blue slip," to provide cover for a president who has been far too soft on Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.
"What has Russia concluded from all this?" Schumer said. "Putin now knows that he will not suffer any consequences for disinformation campaigns, buzzing our ships and planes, for threatening our European allies, for cyberattacks, energy coercion, or his ongoing support for Russian separatists in Ukraine."
In addition to hitting Russia and Iran with additional financial penalties, the bill would give Congress a much stronger hand in determining Russia sanctions policy. The bill would require a 30-day congressional review period if Trump attempts to ease or end penalties against Moscow.
The Senate bill also would impose mandatory sanctions on people involved in Iran's ballistic missile program and anyone who does business with them. The measure would apply terrorism sanctions to the country's Revolutionary Guards and enforce an arms embargo.
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and one of the bill's primary authors, cast the party differences over the sanctions bill as minor and easily fixable.
"I see no reason to believe that this is anything other than a parliamentary issue that needs to be resolved," Corker said. "The whole issue is so minute."
Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, has called for the House to immediately hold an up-or-down vote on the sanctions legislation.
Engel's staff on Wednesday posted on Twitter a recounting of a similar "blue slip" situation in 2014 that was handled speedily by the House. The Senate passed a sanctions bill to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. The legislation arrived in the GOP-led House and hit the same procedural snag. But instead of stalling the bill, the House simply introduced identical legislation that fixed the problem and passed it the same day.
"Republican leadership shouldn't allow this bill to fade into history," the staff wrote of the new sanctions legislation. "A blue slip problem is a procedural hiccup, not an excuse for delaying a critical piece of legislation."
Contact Richard Lardner on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rplardner