By Jordain Carney and Cristina Marcos - 06-21-17 18:25 PM EDT
Democrats are raising suspicions about a procedural issue that is delaying House consideration of a Russian sanctions bill approved by the Senate in a 98-2 vote.
While the bill has broad bipartisan support, the Trump administration reportedly has reservations about the measure, which would curb the president's ability to lift Russian sanctions imposed by the Obama administration.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) accused the House of cooking up a "procedural excuse," saying the "blue slip" violation "does not hold water."
"Is the White House encouraging House Republicans to delay this bill so they can offer the Russians something in their upcoming talks?" he said Wednesday on the Senate floor. "We don't know. It sure seems possible, even likely."
Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he also does not believe "there is a blue-slip issue."
"If they're not moving the legislation, it's not because of a blue slip," he told The Hill.
The procedural problem appears to stem from a requirement in the Senate bill that Congress get 30 days to review, and potentially block, efforts by Trump to lift any current Russia-related sanctions.
Two Republican House chairmen with oversight of the Russia sanctions legislation said Wednesday that they want to move quickly on the bill.
Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said there are multiple options available to overcome the blue-slip requirement that revenue bills start in the House.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said: "I think there's a desire for urgency on this."
But Brady has stressed that his "preferred way" to deal with the issue would be for "the Senate to take it back up, fix the issue, the constitutional issue."
This would appear to mean the Senate would have to vote again on the legislation. Floor time is generally precious in the Senate, which is now getting ready for a vote on healthcare legislation.
Staffers and lawmakers for both House committees and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, are seeking a solution.
And Corker and Royce, who both have big stakes in the sanctions bill, each said they thought the matter would be resolved.
"We're in very constructive conversations on the other side of the building. You know it's a minor issue. ... We're going to try to figure out a fix for this very, very minute issue quickly," Corker told The Hill.
Royce said that if the Senate doesn't find a way to fix the problem quickly, the House could figure out how to take the bill up on its own.
"It looks to me like it's going to be handled in pretty short order. But if it isn't handled in short order, then the House should take up the measure and pass it," Royce said.
The House and Senate have easily resolved the blue-slip issue on many occasions in the past for all types of legislation.
A senior Senate Democratic staffer called on House Republicans to offer "clarity" on what sparked the concern that the sanctions legislation created a constitutional violation.
"If the House wants to move forward on this, they can. It's fixable. They've done it in the past. They can do it now. ... If they want to move forward there are many, many different ways," the aide said.
The office of Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, noted in a memo that the chamber had resolved the blue-slip issue within a day for another Russia sanctions bill in 2014. Lawmakers had passed the measure in response to Russia's aggression in Ukraine.
"It's time to stop letting Russia off the hook. It's time for an up-or-down vote on this measure that passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support," the memo said.
The House could insert the sanctions bill text into a new legislative vehicle to resolve the origination problem.
Cardin said he and Corker are talking about ways to "facilitate" House concerns "if they really believe that's a technical problem and not being used as justification to delay the bill."
Asked later Wednesday for an update about potential paths forward, a Corker aide reiterated that they are "confident that we can resolve the very narrow issue that has been raised."
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he would "be pretty noisy about it" if the sanctions bill stalls.
Kinzinger previously signed on to bipartisan legislation in the House this year to prevent the Trump administration from lifting sanctions on Russia without congressional approval.
When asked if he wants to see the Senate measure pass in the House, his response was: "Hell yeah."
The Senate legislation would impose a range of new sanctions, including on any individuals tied to "malicious cyber activity," supplying weapons to Syrian President Bashar Assad's government or any that are tied to Russia's intelligence and defense sectors.
It would also give Congress 30 days - or 60 days around the August recess - to review and potentially block Trump from lifting or relaxing Russia sanctions, codify the sanctions on Russia imposed by executive order by the Obama administration and allow the Trump administration to impose new sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy.
It also includes new sanctions targeting Iran's ballistic missile development, support for terrorism, transfer of weapons and human rights violations.