— -- Democrats and a handful of Republicans are rallying around a bill designed to prevent President Donald Trump from lifting sanctions on Russia without congressional approval.
The measure, introduced by Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, and cosponsored by top Democrats and at least three Republicans, would give Congress 120 days to block lifting any sanctions on Russia imposed in response to actions in Ukraine and Russia's efforts to interference in the 2016 election.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said questions about the Trump campaign’s alleged communications with Russian officials ahead of the election makes the proposed legislation “all the more important.”
“If there were condoned discussions that Flynn had or he was acting as free agent, this president shouldn't have ability to eliminate Russian sanctions,” he said at the Democrats' press conference.
“It's obvious and clear that Putin is testing the new administration,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York. “The last thing that the U.S. should consider is dialing back sanctions on Russia.”
Late last month, Trump said it was "very early to be talking about" lifting sanctions on Russia, but "if we can have a great relationship with Russia and with China, and with all countries, I'm all for that."
Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, said members hope the bill is a signal to the world that, despite Trump's public statements, Congress remains supportive of sanctions.
"We want to have no doubt about where we stand on these sanctions, our intention is to assure there will be a vigorous response to Russia's criminal behavior," he said.
None of the Republicans sponsoring the legislation, Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Tom Rooney of Florida, and Mike Turner of Ohio, showed up for the news conference. All three had scheduling conflicts, according to their offices.
Top Republicans say they support moving legislation to keep sanctions in place in response to any administration efforts to weaken them.
"He hasn't endorsed any piece of legislation at this point, as the sanctions are still in place," House Speaker Paul Ryan's spokesperson AshLee Strong said of Ryan's position in an email.
"Russia should receive no sanctions relief until it abides by the terms of the Ukraine peace process. If sanctions are eased prior to Russia’s full compliance with the Minsk agreements, I will certainly move legislation to keep them in place," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-California, said in a statement.