US House of Representatives approves sweeping package of sanctions against Russia

Move is to punish Moscow for its interference in last year’s US presidential election

Questions surrounding links between Donald Trump's campaign and Russian interference continue six months into his presidency.

 

The US House of Representative has approved a sweeping package of sanctions against Russia, clearing a key hurdle in Congress’ effort – long opposed by the Trump administration – to punish Moscow for its aggression toward its neighbours and interference in last year’s US presidential election.

The landslide vote, 419-3, brings US president Donald Trump one step closer to a choice he has strained to avoid: Whether to sign legislation that is embraced by Republicans in both the House and the Senate but which undercuts his attempts to ratchet down tensions with Moscow, or to veto the bill even as Russia-related scandal consumes his administration.

The measure would sharply limit the president’s ability to lift or suspend sanctions. It also includes sanctions against Iran and North Korea, two countries the administration has been more eager to hold to account. It still must be taken up by the Senate before being sent to the president’s desk. Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has not said whether that might happen before the August recess. The Senate supported a similar bill nearly unanimously last month, but it only punished Russia and Iran. “Left unchecked, Russia is sure to continue its aggression,” said Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He said it was “well past time that we forcefully respond” to the conduct of all three countries. Speaker Paul Ryan cheered the passage of “one of the most expansive sanctions packages in history”. Initially, Trump administration officials signalled that the president would sign the measure, arguing that the House strengthened it through some small changes. But on Monday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a White House spokeswoman, was more equivocal, saying Trump would “study that legislation and see what the final product looks like”.

Though the sanctions had stalled in the House amid technical concerns and lobbying from a White House that hoped to chart a different course in its Russia relationship, leaders from both parties reached an agreement late last week to advance the measure. Senate Democrats have cheered the deal; some key Republicans have been more reserved.

Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, called the bill “a strong, direct response to Vladimir Putin’s efforts to undermine American democracy”. He said he hoped the measure would not face further delays in the Senate, a prospect that senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, seemed eager to escape. “It’s critical the Senate act promptly on this legislation,” he said, calling for passage before lawmakers leave for recess.

© New York Times