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Democrats Eye Iran Debate for Vote on Russia Sanctions

Iran sanctions measure could get bogged down

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker could move to head off Democrats' attempts to force a vote on Russia sanctions. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker could move to head off Democrats' attempts to force a vote on Russia sanctions. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Democrats may use floor debate this week on an Iran sanctions measure to try to force a vote on legislation that would impose harsh sanctions on Moscow as punishment for its alleged interference in last year’s presidential elections.

Democrats’ exact strategy for securing a Russia sanctions vote was still developing Tuesday, with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker trying to forestall them a little longer.

Cloture has been filed on a bill to impose sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile work and support of terrorism. A cloture vote to limit debate is expected Wednesday.

To block Democratic efforts to offer the Russia sanctions bill as an amendment, Corker could press Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to use a procedural maneuver known as “filling the tree,” which prevents additional amendments from being considered on a bill. But that move would frustrate Democrats and several Republicans, including Armed Services Chairman John McCain of Arizona, who co-sponsored the Russia legislation.

“We’re going to try,” McCain said when asked whether he planned to offer the Russia sanctions measure as an amendment to the Iran bill.

Introduced in January, the Russia sanctions bill from Foreign Relations ranking member Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland has attracted nine Democrats and 10 Republicans as co-sponsors.

New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, one of the co-sponsors, said she planned to offer the measure as an amendment during floor debate on the Iran bill. She also left open the possibility of tweaking the Russia sanctions legislation, in the hope of strengthening the language.

“My hope is to talk to not only Sen. Corker, but obviously Sen. Cardin and Sen. McCain because it’s their bill,” she said.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who has also signed on to the Russia bill, said it would be a “good thing” to find a way to amend the Iran sanctions bill.

Last month, Corker told committee members he would bring an unspecified Russia sanctions bill up for committee consideration before the July 4 recess, if he hasn’t seen significant progress made between Moscow and Washington in resolving differences over the long-running Syrian civil war.

“My guess is there will be a sanctions bill that deals with Russia during this work period,” the Tennessee Republican told reporters Tuesday, declining to say whether that would be the Cardin-McCain bill or some other type of legislation.

Corker said he had a “constructive meeting” on Monday night with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to discuss the state of Russia’s willingness to cooperate with the United States on Syria issues.

Several Democrats on Foreign Relations have said they fear their panel is at risk of losing its oversight of Russian sanctions to the Banking Committee, which has already held hearings on the matter.

Last Thursday, Banking Chairman Michael D. Crapo of Idaho and ranking Democrat Sherrod Brown of Ohio announced they had agreed on the framework of a bill that would strengthen existing sanctions on Russia’s energy sector and its ability to attract debt financing, and also impose new sanctions on certain Russian individuals.