Senate passes new Russia sanctions bill nearly unanimously

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A bipartisan package passed the Senate with almost no opposition Wednesday.

The Senate approved new Russia sanctions in a package that that also allows Congress to block President Donald Trump from adjusting any penalties against Moscow. The deal adds new sanctions against Russia’s defense and military-intelligence sectors and legally classifies existing sanctions.

The package was approved in a 97-2 vote, the result of “cross-aisle collaboration” that’s become rare in Washington. Senators merged the Russia sanctions package with another sanctions bill against Iran that also had bipartisan support. According to reports, the bill could be passed sometime this week.

The bill also represents a major GOP-imposed restriction against the White House, potentially making threats of veto coming from the Trump administration complicated.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), was pushing for the “strongest possible anti-Russia” bill, according to reports. From the Senate floor, Schumer said, “It’s particularly significant that a bipartisan coalition is seeking to reestablish Congress, not the president, as the final arbiter of sanctions relief.”

He continued, “These additional sanctions will also send a powerful, bipartisan statement that Russia and any other nation who might try to interfere with our elections will be punished.”

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was urging fellow Republicans to strike back against Russia for its cyberattacks against the U.S. during the 2016 election and pushed for the sanctions. “Vladimir Putin’s brazen attack on our democracy is a flagrant demonstration of his disdain and disrespect for our nation,” McCain said before the vote. “This should not just outrage every American, but it should compel us to action.”

The White House has not commented about its stance on the bill, or how it might inhibit the president’s ability to work with Vladimir Putin’s government. Some reports indicate that the Trump administration is trying to alter the framework of the bill.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said he thinks the White House is pushing back. “People in the White House, we hear, are making calls in the House to try to stop it, slow it, weaken it, dilute it.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has emphasized the importance of “a constructive dialogue” with Russia, but has not endorsed the bipartisan sanctions deal. Tillerson told House Foreign Affairs Committee members Russia should be held accountable for meddling in U.S. elections, but that he would “urge Congress to ensure any legislation allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation.”

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN), one of the main negotiators of the deal, thinks the legislation will get Trump’s signature.

The bills’ only opposition came from GOP Sens. Mike Lee (UT) and Rand Paul (KY). Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MY) missed the vote.

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