Congress Hamstrings Trump’s Ability to Lift Sanctions With Veto-Proof Bill

WASHINGTON (CN) – A bipartisan bill strengthening sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea – and limiting President Donald Trump’s ability to unilaterally lift them – sailed through the House on Tuesday with a veto-proof majority, teeing up what could be the president’s first veto dilemma.

The House vote late Tuesday cleared the way for both chambers to send one of the first significant pieces of legislation of the new administration to the president’s desk, leaving open the possibility that the first major bill he will consider signing will be one that constrains him.

The bill passed 419-3 with only three Republicans voting against the measure – Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Justin Amash of Michigan and John Duncan Jr. of Tennessee.

The Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act slaps tougher sanctions on Iran and North Korea for their weapons programs. It also punishes key Russian officials and codifies into law sanctions for the country’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its aggression in Ukraine.

However, it also prevents the president from rolling back the sanctions without congressional approval.

The White House has not said yet whether the president will sign the bill if it reaches his desk, though it did say it’s reviewing the legislation. However that might not matter.

The bill passed through the House under an expedited process that requires a two-thirds, veto-proof majority while the Senate easily passed its version of the bill last month 98-2. The overwhelming bipartisan support for the bill will likely force the president’s hand even if he doesn’t want to sign it.

Trump had lobbied Congress unsuccessfully to remove the provision that would block him from rolling back sanctions unilaterally. The bill could frustrate his efforts to pursue closer relations with Russia, something he expressed a desire to do while on the campaign trail. Trump has reportedly been weighing whether to give back two diplomatic compounds in New York and Maryland that the Obama administration seized late last year in retaliation for Russia’s election interference.

The sanctions legislation had been stalled in the House for several weeks due to procedural snags.

The Senate had to approve changes over concerns about where the bill originated, due to a constitutional requirement that all revenue-raising measures must originate in House. Then, House leadership reached a compromise with Democrats over their objections to a Republican provision that would have kept them from forcing votes to block the president from lifting sanctions.

Now, any House member can force a vote to block sanctions relief.

Oil and gas companies had also raised concerns about provisions that would have restricted interactions between American and Russian energy companies.

To address those concerns, the version of the bill that passed the House on Tuesday stipulates that the United States can only sanction Russian energy-export pipelines, while a ban on U.S. investments in deepwater, shale or Arctic offshore projects will only apply if Russian entities have at least a 33 percent ownership interest.

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