The question of new Russian sanctions has been raised by a number of senators in both parties after the intelligence community announced in January its conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election on behalf of President Donald Trump.
The measure calls for strengthening current sanctions and imposing new ones on a broad range of people, including Russians engaged in corruption, individuals in human rights abuses and anyone supplying weapons to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. It would require the administration to explain any moves to ease or lift sanctions, and create a new mechanism for Congress to review and block any such effort.
"With overwhelming Senate passage of the Russian Federation sanctions amendment, the US sends a strong signal to President Putin while ensuring the Trump administration has the flexibility it needs", Corker said in a statement. Yet in a hearing this week, he said the administration would like "flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation".
Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., voted against the Russian Federation sanctions package. Tillerson had asked for some time to try and change the direction of U.S. -Russia relations before Congress levied new sanctions on the Kremlin.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders the following day criticized the sanctions package. Then it will be brought before US President Donald Trump, who will have to either sign or vetoit.
If passed, the measure could hamper ongoing talks between Trump administration officials and their Kremlin counterparts to remove the "irritants" in their relationship, beginning with the return of Russia's diplomatic compounds that were seized by Obama a year ago.
Although the White House has yet to take an official position on the bill, their displeasure with it is clear. The amendment was crafted by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), and Senate Banking Committee Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
Today's vote was the most significant blow the Republican President has received from the Republican Congress.
The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran. As the State Department actively engages with lawmakers, the White House is confident it has allies in the House who are also concerned about the prospect of breaking with precedent and limiting the executive branch's control over sanctions. It also imposes secondary sanctions on foreign entities doing business with certain Russian energy projects, to include foreign financial institutions that facilitate those activities.