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White House claims Trump open to signing Russia sanctions legislation despite Twitterstorm

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The White House said on Sunday that U.S. President Donald Trump was open to signing legislation toughening sanctions on Russia after Senate and House leaders reached agreement on a bill for stronger action against Moscow.

Congressional Democrats said on Saturday they had agreed with Republicans on a deal allowing new sanctions targeting Russia, Iran and North Korea in a bill that would limit any potential effort by Trump to try to lift sanctions against Moscow.

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A White House official said the administration’s view of the legislation evolved after changes were made, including the addition of sanctions on North Korea.

The official said the administration “supports the direction the bill is headed, but won’t weigh in conclusively until there is a final piece of legislation and no more changes are being made.”

Trump has faced resistance from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers for his pledge to pursue warmer relations with Moscow. His administration has been bogged down by investigations of possible ties between his 2016 campaign and Russia. Trump has said his campaign did not collude with Russia.

With the bill, Republicans and Democrats are seeking to punish Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and for meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Putin has denied any interference in the U.S. democratic process last year.

Two U.S. senators said they believed the legislation would pass with enough votes to override a veto should the Republican president decide not to sign the bill.

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In recent weeks, Trump administration officials have met with lawmakers to argue against parts of the Senate version of the bill, including the requirement that Trump obtain Congress’ permission before easing sanctions.

“We support where the legislation is now and will continue working with the House and Senate to put those tough sanctions in place on Russia until the situation in Ukraine is fully resolved and it certainly isn’t right now,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” program.

The sanctions bill, known as the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act, was passed by the Senate a month ago but held up in the House of Representatives after Republicans proposed including North Korea sanctions in the bill.

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Lawmakers, including Republican Senator John Thune and Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Sunday the bill had broad bipartisan support.

“I think (it) will pass probably overwhelmingly again in the Senate and with a veto-proof majority,” Thune, a member of the Republican leadership, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

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In a statement on Friday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce said the bill would “help bolster the energy security of our European allies by maintaining their access to key energy resources outside of Russia.”

The previous sanctions bill contained a provision to penalize companies partnering with Russia on the country’s pipeline export projects.

International energy companies and German politicians criticized the measure, saying it would hurt partnerships on Nord Stream 2, a pipeline to bring gas from Russia to consumers in Europe.

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In Brussels, the European Union has sounded an alarm about the U.S. moves to step up sanctions on Russia, urging Washington to coordinate with its Group of 7 partners.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, warned that there could be “wide and indiscriminate” unintended consequences, notably on the EU’s efforts to diversify energy sources away from Russia.

CONGRESS TO VOTE TUESDAY

Anthony Scaramucci, Trump’s new communications director, said Trump had not yet decided whether he would sign the sanctions bill.

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“My guess is … that he’s going to make that decision shortly,” Scaramucci told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The House is set to vote on Tuesday, according to McCarthy’s office.

The legislation would require the president to submit to Congress a report on proposed actions that would “significantly alter” U.S. policy toward Russia, including easing sanctions or returning diplomatic properties in Maryland and New York that former President Barack Obama ordered vacated in December.

Congress would have at least 30 days to hold hearings and then vote to uphold or reject Trump’s proposed changes.

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Separately, the top Democrat on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam Schiff, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” he would ask Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner, about his past contacts with Russians.

Kushner is scheduled to be interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday and by the House Intelligence Committee the following day.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and Tim Gardner; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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