Congress Takes The Lead In Broad New Sanctions Against Russia

On June 15, 2017, the Senate overwhelmingly – by a vote of 98-2 – approved broad new sanctions against Russia in response to that country’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election and its ongoing aggression in Syria and Ukraine.

The legislation would make several big changes. First, the package would codify existing sanctions on Russia, which were imposed in the wake of the invasion of Crimea, into law. Codifying the sanctions would prevent the White House from unilaterally easing or lifting the sanctions, which the administration could do under current law without obtaining approval from Congress.

Second, the new legislation, if enacted into law, would require tough new sanctions on a variety of Russian actors, including those involved in corruption, evading sanctions, doing business with Russia’s defense or intelligence sectors, or cyber operations on behalf of the Russian government, among others. The bill would also authorize more sweeping economic sanctions against Russia’s economy, targeting state-owned mining, metals, shipping, and railroad industries. Implementing the broader economic sanctions would require action by the administration, so it is unclear whether they would ultimately be imposed.

Overall, the bill is an effort to assert more Congressional control over the United States relationship with Russia. The Senate bill does provide the President with discretion over certain aspects of the sanctions, but would mandate Congressional review if the White House tried to suspend or relax sanctions on Russia. In a Congressional hearing the day before the bill’s passage, Secretary of State Tillerson urged Congress to ensure any legislation allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation.”

The Russia sanctions, developed by a bipartisan group of Senators, were added to an Iran sanctions bill. The bill now goes to the House, where the timing and prospects for passage remain uncertain. If approved by the House, the bill would be sent to the President for signature.