Russia Sanctions Bill Clears Congress

Russia Sanctions Bill Clears Congress

The Senate today approved the Russia sanctions bill that passed the House earlier this week, clearing the measure for the President.  It is not known if he will sign it or not.  The final version includes language adopted by the Senate last month clarifying that NASA activities with Russia are exempted as are space launches conducted for NASA or the commercial sector.

The Senate passed its version of the bill in June by a vote of 98-2.  It imposed additional sanctions on Russia and Iran.  The House passed its version, H.R. 3364, on Tuesday, adding sanctions against North Korea. The House vote was 419-3.  The Senate agreed with the House version this evening, again by a vote of 98-2.

With regard to Russia, the bill imposes sanctions against Russian individuals and entities due to Russia’s interventions in Ukraine and for “undermining cybersecurity.”  During consideration of the bill in June, the Senate added section 237 to clarify that the bill does not apply to NASA’s activities with Russia and is not intended to place any limitation on any Russian entity providing products or services related to any space launch for NASA or any other non-Department of Defense customer (i.e., the commercial sector).

Russia is a critical partner in the US-Russian-Japanese-European-Canadian International Space Station (ISS) program and is the only ISS partner currently capable of taking crews back and forth to ISS.  A three-person crew will launch tomorrow morning (Friday), for example.  NASA and commercial customers also rely on rockets that contain Russian components (such as the RD-180 engines that power ULA’s Atlas V and the RD-181s used on Orbital ATK’s Antares) or are owned by Russian entities (e.g. Proton).

President Trump has given conflicting signals on whether he will sign or veto the bill.  One issue is that it prohibits a President from waiving sanctions without congressional approval.  If he vetoes the bill, Congress could override it with a two-thirds vote of each chamber.  The bill passed both the House and Senate with wide enough margins to be veto-proof, putting the President in a difficult situation.

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