WASHINGTON – House and Senate Republicans have worked out a deal to move quickly on a package of new financial sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea, clearing the way for Congress to send the far-reaching legislation to President Donald Trump.
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Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement late Wednesday that he and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had reached an agreement that removed the last obstacle to passing the bill. The measure hits the three U.S. foes with additional penalties.
The House had overwhelmingly approved the legislation Tuesday, 419-3. But Corker had objected to including the sanctions targeting Pyongyang in the legislation. He wanted to keep the North Korea penalties in a separate bill that the Senate would consider. But Corker dropped his objections. He said the Senate will "move to approve" the House-passed bill after receiving assurances the North Korea sections would be fine-tuned at a later date.
"Going forward, the House has committed to expeditiously consider and pass enhancements to the North Korea language, which multiple members of the Senate hope to make in the very near future," he said.
The sanctions against Moscow are punishment for its meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria. According to the bill, Trump would be barred from easing the Russia sanctions without first getting permission from Congress, a demand that could imperil his bid for better relations with Moscow.
A version of the sanctions legislation that only addressed Russia and Iran cleared the Senate nearly six weeks ago with 98 votes.
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"Not a word of the North Korea bill has been looked at over here. Not a word," Corker told reporters earlier on Wednesday as he explained his concerns.
But House lawmakers fired back, noting that the House had decisively passed a North Korea-only sanctions bill in May, yet the Senate never took that bill up. They added that it's all the more important to push ahead with the North Korea sanctions following a report that U.S. intelligence officials believe Pyongyang will have a reliable, intercontinental missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon as early as next year.
"That is why the House added the previously House-passed North Korea sanctions bill — which has been languishing in the Senate for over two months — to the Senate bill," said Matt Sparks, a spokesman for McCarthy.
Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he and other Democrats had no objections to making the North Korea sanctions part of the overall package.
"There's nothing in the bill that I find problematic," he said. "I hope we pass it the way it is."
Contact Richard Lardner on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rplardner