WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats may not support new legislation sanctioning Iran unless it comes in a package that also sanctions Russia for its alleged interference in America’s recent presidential election, minority leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday.
Schumer said his Republican counterpart, majority leader Mitch McConnell, was open to the idea, though it effectively ties penalizing Iran to a measure the Trump administration may be less likely to support.
“Our Republican colleagues should realize it will be very difficult to gather Democratic support for final passage of this bill until we deal with Russia sanctions,” Schumer declared on the Senate floor. “We strongly feel that we need a tough, effective package of Russia sanctions.”
US officials have accused the Kremlin of meddling in the 2016 US election, a charge Moscow denies.
A special counsel investigation into Russian interference — and the possibility of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign — has recently increased in both intensity and scope and reports have indicated the White House may be seeking to ease sanctions against Russia.
At the same time, the administration has taken a hard line against Iran, vowing to review the nuclear deal and calling for the international community to isolate Tehran.
Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced a billthat would strengthen sanctions against Iran for its ballistic missile testing and other non-nuclear provocations. It was designed, legislators said, not to violate the terms of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
The Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017, as it is formally known, would also impose new mandatory sanctions against persons and entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and sanctions against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
The measure advanced through the committee with bipartisan support, passing by a vote of 18-3.
“I want to be very clear,” Schumer added. “Democrats will vote to advance this bill to the floor because… most of us support the bill. But also because we expect an amendment process that will follow for a vote on a strong package of Russia sanctions.”
Schumer was one of the few Democratic members of the Senate in 2015 to vote against the nuclear deal forged under the leadership of former president Barack Obama.
Democratic and Republican members of Congress have demanded a vigorous response to Moscow’s actions since US intelligence agencies published a declassified report that found the Russians undertook a comprehensive cyber campaign to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.
In December, Obama sanctioned Russia, ejected 35 of its intelligence operatives from the United States and seized two of its diplomatic compounds — one in Maryland and the other in New York.
The Washington Post report last week that the Trump administration is considering returning those facilities — now under US federal control — back to Russia.
On Thursday, former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump abruptly fired last month, will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee for a highly anticipated hearing that will likely focus on probes into contacts between Russia and Trump officials.
The House Intelligence Committee issued subpoenas last week for business records, documents and testimony from Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
Comey confirmed to Washington lawmakers in March there was an ongoing FBI probe into Russian interference in the election and whether there was any coordination with Trump associates.