The House and Senate are on a path to quickly tweaking and passing a bill imposing new sanctions against Russia and Iran, possibly before they leave for the July 4 break, without any consideration of the Trump administration's call for more flexibility in how to implement those sanctions.
A technicality stalled the bill this week in the House, which led many Democrats to suspect that House Republicans were wavering on the bill in deference to President Trump, who doesn't want to get boxed in with the mandatory Russia sanctions in the bill.
But several congressional aides told the Washington Examiner that the delay has nothing to do with pleasing Trump and is only about making the technical fix.
"Everyone here is committed to getting this done as soon as we can," one House Republican aide told the Washington Examiner. "Nobody's gonna tinker with it."
The Senate last week voted 98-2 to sanction Russia for its meddling in the 2016 election and its aggression against Crimea in 2014. Democrats in particular demanded the addition of the Russia language to the Iran sanctions bill in retaliation for Russia's alleged theft of Democratic National Committee emails.
Because of the anger over Russia, the bill included language that's relatively new to sanctions bills: a section that gives Congress the right to override a White House decision to waive sanctions against Russia. That piece was critical to winning Democratic support.
The bill got hung up in the House, however, as it included language related to revenue, and the Constitution says all revenue language must originate in the House. The language in question has to do with the possible collection of financial penalties while Congress is reviewing a decision to waive the sanctions, according to a House aide.
When House lawmakers raised that issue, Democrats immediately suspected that the GOP was slow-walking the bill to satisfy Trump. The White House has fed into that idea by making it clear that it still wants to see the congressional review language disappear.
"There are some provisions in the Senate bill that would inadvertently impair Treasury's ability to wield its sanctions tools ... , risk endangering the trans-Atlantic sanctions coalition, and weaken the administration's ability to credibly signal that it would calibrate our sanctions in response to Russian behavior," a White House official told the Washington Examiner. "We remain committed to working with Congress on these issues."
But several congressional aides said there is almost no discussion of removing the congressional review language and that the talks are all about resolving the constitutional issue.
And by Thursday, Republicans indicated they had their answer. The House Ways & Means Committee said language fixing the revenue issue had been solved and had been sent over to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As a result, the Senate is expected to ask for the bill back and pass it with the technical fix attached, then send it back to the House once more for passage, possibly by next week.
The lack of interest in addressing the White House's problems with the bill is due in no small part to an evolution of how Congress thinks about sanctions, which Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker described when the bill passed the Senate last week.
The history of U.S. sanctions policy for the last two decades is filled with examples of Congress' passing bills that call for tough sanctions that can easily be waived for national security reasons. That has led to a stream of waivers and hundreds of unhappy lawmakers who realize the tough measures they passed are not being implemented.
Corker, who has supported Trump, said last week that this has to end.
"For decades, Congress has slowly and irresponsibly ceded its authorities to the executive branch, particularly as it relates to foreign policy," said Corker. "Today marks a significant shift of power back to the American people's representatives, something that has been a top priority of mine since becoming the lead Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee more than four years ago."
A Senate aide added that in light of last week's 98-2 vote on the bill, the Senate seems to mostly back Corker's point of view and that it makes no sense for the Senate to reverse itself just because a technical fix has to be made.
Aides on the House side agreed that there's no desire to wait on the bill and that lawmakers want to get the bill back from the Senate and pass it. Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., indicated Thursday morning that he wants to move it as soon as the bill is returned.
"We're going to move legislation through this House in order to further sanction Russia," he said on Fox News. "It will get done. It has to get done. We have to send this message to Moscow."
"What Moscow is doing is not only – Putin is doing this – not only is he threatening democracies, but he's trying to break NATO," Royce added. "And the best counter for us in this regard is to show that we're going to put additional sanctions on him."