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Senate passes Russia sanctions amendment with bipartisan support

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The U.S. Senate on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly for an amendment limiting the Trump administration's ability to unilaterally ease sanctions on Russia. 

In a 97-2 vote, with only Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) voting against the measure, the Senate approved a new package of sanctions that requires congressional approval before the Trump administration can roll back any sanctions against Russia. The amendment, which includes new sanctions on the Kremlin over human rights violations and meddling in the 2016 presidential election, is attached to an Iran sanctions bill that could pass as soon as this week, making it more difficult for President Trump to veto the legislation.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) was absent because of a kidney stone, but tweeted he would have voted yes if he could have. 

The amendment was crafted by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), with assistance from the committee's Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Maryland).

"With overwhelming Senate passage of the Russia sanctions amendment, the U.S. sends a strong signal to President Putin while ensuring the Trump administration has the flexibility it needs," Corker said in a statement. "The Russian government continues to violate the sovereignty of Ukraine, aggravate the crisis in Syria, and destabilize democracies around the world. This amendment makes clear that we will not continue to tolerate such actions, and I am glad we are one step closer to passage of our legislation to hold Iran accountable."

The rare bipartisan move was a blow to the Trump administration, which is looking for room to negotiate with Russia. Earlier Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed his opposition to the legislation, saying it would hurt the "flexibility" the administration needs to "maintain a constructive dialogue" with Russia. 

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Republicans and Democrats have been united on the Russia sanctions issue. On "Face the Nation" Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham said the president will be "betraying democracy" if he doesn't sign the legislation, given the "overwhelming evidence that Russia is trying to destroy democracy here and abroad."

"We're gonna' punish the Russians," Graham said on Sunday.

But the vote on Russia sanctions was overshadowed by the shooting of GOP House Whip Steve Scalise, a GOP staff member, a former GOP staffer and two members of the U.S. Capitol Police force, while they practiced for a congressional baseball game in Alexandria, Virginia, early Wednesday morning. Scalise is in critical condition, as is Matt Mika, a former GOP staffer who now works as a lobbyist for Tyson Foods. 

Both Democratic and Republican members placed politics aside to offer prayers, support and camaraderie Wednesday, in an unusual show of unity on Capitol Hill. 

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