Bill seeks congressional approval before lifting Russian sanctions

Three Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a bill in the U.S. House aimed at stopping the president from being able to unilaterally lift sanctions on Russia.

Democratic Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., was joined by fellow Democrats Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Adam Schiff, D-Ca., to introduce the bipartisan legislation to ensure Russia does not receive any sanctions relief “until it earns it,” Hoyer said.

Sponsored by seven Democrats and six Republicans, the bill mirrors similar legislation in the Senate and would require congressional review and approval prior to removing any sanctions placed on Russia by the Obama administration over the Kremlin’s alleged illegal annexation of Crimea, its involvement in Ukraine and interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.

“Every American, every Republican, every Democrat is concerned about Russia and what they have been doing to violate international law, not to mention the criminal behavior they may be pursuing and are pursuing, we believe, in Syria,” Hoyer said.

The Russia Sanctions Review Act uses the 2015 Iran nuclear deal as a precedent for congressional oversight. The deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, sought to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The Russian sanctions bill comes only days after President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, stepped down after it came to light he was in contact with Russia over U.S. sanctions and he reportedly misled Vice President Mike Pence about the substance of the December call with Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the U.S.

Trump, during a press conference Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned the leaks that exposed Flynn’s communication with Moscow, saying the former national security adviser had been treated “very, very unfairly by the media.”

Trump went on, saying that documents and papers “were illegally — I’d stress that, illegally — leaked.”   

Earlier this month, the Treasury Department adjusted Obama’s sanctions on FSB, the Russian intelligence agency. The sanction adjustments allow for the import of U.S.-made information technology products into Russia.

In response to a reporter’s question about whether the U.S. was easing sanctions against Russia, Trump responded, “I haven’t eased anything.”

The White House later clarified that these sorts of adjustments are “routine.”

“The president’s fondness for Vladimir Putin is inexplicable but it does not set U.S. foreign policy alone and Congress has an important role to play in making clear that we will continue to impose consequences on Russia and its autocratic leader Vladimir Putin,” Schiff said.