Senate passes new sanctions bill targeting Iran, Russia

Richard Lardner
Associated Press

Washington — A frequently polarized Senate found common ground Thursday as Republicans and Democrats joined forces to approve a sweeping sanctions bill that punishes longtime adversaries Iran and Russia, putting Congress on a possible collision course with President Donald Trump.

The bipartisan legislation passed overwhelmingly Thursday, 98-2, more than five months after U.S. intelligence agencies determined Moscow had deliberately interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign. Lawmakers have long sought to hit Iran with more sanctions in order to check its ballistic missile program and rebuke Tehran’s continued support for terrorist groups.

The decisive bipartisan vote could put the Trump administration in a bind. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has offered only tepid support for the Russia sanctions package. Yet those penalties are melded with the Iran punishments. So the White House would have to reject stricter punishments against Iran, which it favors, in order to derail the Russia penalties.

The legislation, which now moves to the House, also gives Capitol Hill a much stronger hand in determining Russia sanctions policy. The bill would require a congressional review if Trump attempts to ease or end penalties against Moscow.

“This is the way the Senate is supposed to exercise its prerogatives as it relates to foreign policy,” said Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

The review mechanism was styled after 2015 legislation pushed by Republicans and approved overwhelmingly in the Senate that gave Congress a vote on whether then President Barack Obama could lift sanctions against Iran. That measure reflected Republican complaints that Obama had overstepped the power of the presidency and needed to be checked by Congress.

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee, said it cost Russia very little to cause chaos by meddling in the elections of other countries.

“You add up, without firing a shot or shooting a missile, the amount of disruption the Russians have caused in Western societies at large — all that for less than 5 percent of the cost of a new aircraft carrier,” Warner said. “Pretty good rate of return.”

Senators insisted the new Iran sanctions won’t undermine or impede enforcement of the landmark nuclear deal reached with Tehran two years ago.