WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump’s son and a Russian attorney, and the failure to disclose it, add new urgency to the push to pass a Russian sanctions bill that has been stalled in Congress, lawmakers and aides said on Tuesday.
“What happened with Donald Trump Jr. just underscores how Russia was operating,” said Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Cardin said the bill should have been passed because of Russian interference in last year’s U.S. elections, occupation of parts of Ukraine and Georgia and support of the Syrian government.
The Senate backed the sanctions legislation by 98-2 on June 15 but it has been stuck in the House of Representatives, amid partisan squabbling between Republicans and Democrats.
Trump’s relationship with Russia has been in particularly sharp focus this month because he had his first meeting last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Some Democrats had accused Trump’s fellow Republicans of stalling the sanctions package at least until after that meeting, to please the president. Republicans denied that.
House Republican leaders initially rejected the bill for procedural reasons, prompting the Senate to tweak it. But Democrats then objected to a change by the Senate that they said weakened the bill by making it more difficult for the House to vote on any change in sanctions policy by Trump.
AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, said Democrats still were objecting to moving the bill in its current form.
But both Republican and Democratic House aides said talks between the two parties were continuing and there was a decent chance for a quick compromise, more so because of the latest revelations about Trump’s eldest son.
‘CERTAINLY DOES NOT HELP’
Donald Trump Jr. eagerly agreed last year to meet a woman he believed was a Russian government lawyer who might have damaging information about Democratic White House nominee Hillary Clinton, as part of Moscow’s official support for his father, according to emails released on Tuesday.
“It certainly does not help the administration at this point,” a senior Republican House aide said.
Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, predicted that the matter would be cleared up quickly and brought to the floor for a vote this week.
The Russia package, written as an amendment to an Iran sanctions bill, puts into law sanctions previously established through presidential executive order, including some on Russian energy projects and debt financing.
It also imposes sanctions on Russians convicted of human rights abuses or cyber attacks and would allow new sanctions on Russian mining, metals, shipping and railways.
Trump administration officials have been meeting with lawmakers to argue against some parts of the bill, including the requirement that Trump obtain Congress’ permission before easing any sanctions.
They also objected to the fact that many of the sanctions are mandatory, meaning Trump could not waive them for national security reasons.
“This is more about foreign policy and having the flexibility to negotiate with other countries,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told a daily briefing.
But many of Trump’s fellow Republicans said they wanted to move ahead nonetheless to send a strong message to Russia.
“Any administration would prefer to conduct foreign policy 100 percent without involvement by Congress. That’s just the way life is,” said Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will introduce his own Russia sanctions legislation in the House if the Senate bill remains stalled, a source familiar with his thinking said.
Royce’s thinking was first reported by Politico.
Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton