Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier this week signaled his displeasure with any sanctions bill that would force the U.S. to “close the channels off” with Russia.

White House plans to push House GOP for friendlier Russia sanctions deal

Senate Democrats fear that the White House will defang the bill designed to punish Russia for election meddling.

The White House plans to work with House Republicans on administration-friendly changes to the Senate’s overwhelmingly bipartisan bill that slaps new sanctions on Russia and curbs President Donald Trump’s power to ease penalties against Moscow, according to a senior administration official.

The White House is concerned that the legislation would tie its hands on U.S.-Russia relations, a sentiment publicly expressed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. But Senate Democrats fear the White House may go overboard in preserving its power to talk to Russia and seek to defang the sanctions bill — which passed 98-2 on Thursday in one of the year’s most significant displays of bipartisanship.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier this week signaled his displeasure with any sanctions bill that would force the U.S. to “close the channels off” with Russia.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier this week signaled his displeasure with any sanctions bill that would force the U.S. to “close the channels off” with Russia.

“I’m concerned about it, but I don’t really have the ability to dictate what the White House says to the House,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said in an interview. “I can’t imagine the House would want to be apologists for Russian behavior after the combined weight of the intelligence communities all weighing in saying, ‘Look, they attacked the United States’.”

The administration official emphasized that the White House supports sanctions on Russia and that the political ramifications of any veto have not been discussed yet. As the State Department actively engages with lawmakers, the White House is confident it has allies in the House who are also concerned about the prospect of breaking with precedent and limiting the executive branch’s control over sanctions.

It’s so far unclear how the House GOP would receive any White House entreaties to restore some of Trump’s power over sanctions that the Senate voted to claw back. House Republicans have started to review the Senate-passed bill and are likely to take it up in the coming weeks, according to an aide.

But Senate Democrats fret that the frenetic news cycle may make it easier for Trump — who has repeatedly offered praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin and is mired in an FBI probe into possible collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin — to undercut a sanctions deal designed to punish Moscow for meddling in last year’s election.

“I’m afraid that the level of awareness isn’t where it should be,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in an interview. “And we’re going to come back and ask ‘How could this accommodation to Russia have happened?’ if this bill is watered down.”

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who helped negotiate the sanctions package as the Banking Committee’s top Democrat, told POLITICO he has heard the Trump administration is reaching out to House members “to slow it, block it.”

“This is not something the administration is calling for us to do,” Brown said. “I applaud the courage of a number of my Republican colleagues who said no to the administration and did the right thing for the country to keep a foreign power out of our elections.”

The Senate’s Russia sanctions agreement, crafted by senior members of both parties, would impose new penalties on Moscow’s defense, military intelligence, and energy sectors, among others. The deal also would convert existing sanctions into law, potentially complicating any removal by the White House, and allow Congress to block Trump from easing or ending sanctions with a two-thirds majority vote.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) predicted earlier this week that Trump would not veto any sanctions package that reached his desk. Hailing the Senate deal’s impact after its passage, Corker tweeted that the Russia measure “marks a significant shift of power back to the people’s representatives, a priority of mine since becoming the lead Republican on” his committee.

However, Tillerson earlier this week signaled his displeasure with any sanctions bill that would force the U.S. to “close the channels off” with Russia. While the White House has not taken an official position on the bill, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday tried to project toughness on Russia while appearing to express concerns about the Senate legislation.

“We believe the existing executive branch sanctions regime is the best tool for compelling Russia to fulfill its commitments,” Sanders told reporters Thursday, adding that the Senate deal “needs to go through the House, and we don’t have a final product yet to weigh in.”

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert also declined to take a formal position on the Senate bill until the House takes up its own approach. Nauert underscored the administration’s desire to achieve a better relationship with Putin’s government, particularly on anti-terrorism issues.

“We continue to look for areas in which both parties can work together,” Nauert told reporters Thursday. “We’ve talked about how we believe the United States and Russia can work together to fight ISIS.”

The Senate made a veto threat somewhat more difficult by attaching its Russia package to an Iran sanctions bill that boasts support on both sides of the aisle and in the administration. Should the House take a different approach to Trump’s Moscow policy, the lopsided vote in the upper chamber likely would give the Senate a strong position heading into any conference talks.

“I just cannot fathom how House Republicans could ultimately, with everything that’s going on with Russia’s nefarious actions, try to either deep-six the bill or dramatically change it,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said in an interview. “That leaves the Republicans saying they don’t want to do anything on Russia.”

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) has affirmed his interest in a bipartisan bill that sanctions Russia for its documented cyberattacks during the election — meddling that Trump has repeatedly dismissed as little more than a Democratic excuse for defeat. The full House approved new sanctions last month on entities connected to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s violent government, including Russian companies, that the Senate has yet to consider.

“We are looking at ways of sending an additional message” to Russia, Royce said at a committee meeting last month, highlighting two Democratic bills that would sanction Moscow for its involvement in electoral meddling.

But Senate Democrats who pressed hard to win the strongest possible Russia sanctions deal remain alarmed over its fate in the House. Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he wouldn’t be surprised if the administration aimed to dilute the Senate’s bill, given that “the president has refused to acknowledge that we have a problem with the Russians involved in our elections.”

Asked if he feared that Trump’s team could secure its preferred Russia changes with little public scrutiny, Durbin said only: “Yes.”


Gerry Adams said Theresa May would cause problems creating a deal with the DUP

‘NO INTEGRITY’ Gerry Adams accuses Tories of breaking Good Friday Agreement with DUP deal

SINN FEIN has accused the Conservatives of breaking the Good Friday Agreement by pushing for a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

The Irish nationalist party’s president, Gerry Adams, said Mrs May was playing “fast and loose” with the Government’s commitment to the peace process deal in a bid to shore up the Tory’s minority government.

He accused her of turning a “blind eye to the disruptive actions” of the DUP at Stormont in which they campaigned against the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Adams said: “Both the Government and the DUP have refused to implement key agreements on language and equality rights and dealing with the legacy of the past.

”We warned Mrs May that the pact between the Tories and the DUP has the potential to undermine past agreements and the re-establishment of the Executive.

“Any deal that undermines the Good Friday Agreement will be opposed by Sinn Fein and we would hope the Irish Government.

“If the institutions are to be put in place they need to be sustainable, viable and properly resourced.”

The Good Friday Agreement includes a commitment to power-sharing between nationalist and unionist parties in the North and neutrality from the UK.

A group of Sinn Fein politicians visited Downing Street on Thursday
A group of Sinn Fein politicians visited Downing Street on Thursday

Mr Adams said he told Mrs May “very directly” during a meeting at Downing Street yesterday she was “in breach of the Good Friday Agreement”.

Sinn Fein would support any additional monies going to the Northern Ireland Executive as a result of a deal, he said.

But he added: “A little side bargain to keep Theresa May in power, a temporary little arrangement, won’t have any integrity.”

Former Tory MP John Major has warned about a deal with the DUP
Former Tory MP John Major has warned about a deal with the DUP

Former Northern Ireland secretary Lord Hain has accused the Conservatives of “putting party before peace” by seeking an agreement with the DUP to shore up Mrs May’s minority administration in Westminster.

Lord Hain, who was Northern Ireland secretary from 2005 to 2007, warned the situation is “very damaging” at a time when sensitive talks are under way over the restoration of powersharing at Stormont.

He said the Government could not act as a “neutral facilitator” in Northern Ireland, as the Good Friday Agreement envisages, if it was dependent on one of the Northern Irish parties for its majority in the House of Commons.

Gerry Adams has been the president of Sinn Fein since the 1980s

What is Sinn Fein? What does Sinn Fein mean and what is the Good Friday Agreement?

SINN Fein has accused Theresa May of jeopardising the Good Friday Agreement by trying to build an alliance with the DUP. But what is Sinn Fein?

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams claimed the Prime Minister is playing “fast and loose” with the Northern Ireland peace process by holding talks with the DUP.

The Irish republican party fears a Conservative government supported by the unionist DUP would break the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Adams said: ”We warned Mrs May that the pact between the Tories and the DUP has the potential to undermine past agreements and the re-establishment of the Executive.

“Any deal that undermines the Good Friday Agreement will be opposed by Sinn Fein and we would hope the Irish Government.”

What is Sinn Fein?

Sinn Fein is an Irish republican party which believes that Ireland and Northern Ireland should be united as a sovereign state, free from any political union with Britain.

Sinn Fein was founded by Arthur Griffith in 1905
Sinn Fein was founded by Arthur Griffith in 1905

The party was for a long time regarded as the political wing of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), but from at least the 1990s Sinn Fein has distanced itself from the terrorist organisation.

The party was founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, but was of little importance until the Easter Rising in 1916 – the armed insurrection against the British government in Ireland.

Support for Sinn Fein swelled after the uprising and the party won 73 of the 105 Irish seats in the British Parliament in 1918.

Any deal that undermines the Good Friday Agreement will be opposed by Sinn Fein

Gerry Adams

On January 21 1919 they formed their own government called Dail Eireann and declared independence from the UK.

The Irish War of Independence was triggered after IRA members, acting on their own initiative, shot dead two members of the Royal Irish Constabulary.

After the war, in 1921, Sinn Fein played a significant role in negotiating the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The agreement gave independence to 26 of the 32 counties in Ireland, which became the Irish Free State.

Sinn Fein split into two factions after the treaty was signed and fought against each other in the Irish Civil War of 1922-23.

In the 1980s, Republican prisoners took part in a series of hunger strikes. 10 men, seven of whom were IRA members, died during the protests, which helped generate sympathy for the Republican cause among Catholics in Northern Ireland.

Gerry Adams was elected president of Sinn Fein in 1983.

How is Sinn Fein linked to the IRA?

The Irish and US governments have claimed that senior Sinn Fein members have also held positions in the IRA, but the party has dismissed the allegations.

Former Irish justice minister Michael McDowell named Mr Adams and the late Martin McGuinness as members of the IRA’s ruling army council in 2005.

He told Dublin’s Today FM: “We’re talking about a small group of people, including a number of elected representatives, who run the whole [republican] movement.”

“We are talking about Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams, Martin Ferris and others.”

Mr Adams adamantly denies that he was ever a member of the IRA, but also refuses to “disassociate” himself with the organisation.

In 1993, he expressed regret for the Shankill Road IRA bombing that killed nine people, but failed to condemn it.

The Sinn Fein leader then helped carry the coffin of IRA member Thomas Begley, who died when the bomb exploded prematurely.

During a meeting with Alan McBride, whose wife was killed in the blast, Mr Adams called on the families of IRA victims to forgive their killers.

He said: “I am not a pacifist and I certainly do not believe that non-violent protest would have got justice on the island of Ireland, but I do know that after decades of war, we all have plenty to forgive and to be forgiven for.”

What does Sinn Fein mean?

Sinn Fein comes from the Irish Gaelic and translates as “Ourselves”.

It refers to the party’s assertion that Ireland should be a united sovereign state, free from any political union with Great Britain.

What is the Good Friday Agreement?

The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) is a multilateral political deal that helped bring peace to Northern Ireland.

It is widely credited with ending the Troubles that had ravaged Northern Ireland since the 1960s.

The Troubles is the name given to the “guerrilla war” between unionists and loyalists.

The long-running conflict was responsible for the deaths of more than 3,500 people over a period of 30 years.

The GFA was signed on Good Friday, April 10, in 1998 by the British and Irish governments, as well as eight political parties in Northern Ireland.

It was comprised of three strands that dealt with the political relationships between the three nations.

The GFA acknowledged that while most people in Northern Ireland wanted to remain a part of the UK, a substantial section of the country wished for a united Ireland.

The deal stated that Northern Ireland would remain part of the Great Britain until the majority of people on the island wished otherwise.

Should this situation arise, the British and Irish governments have a “binding obligation” not to resist.

The DUP were the only major party in Northern Ireland to oppose the GFA.

Could Sinn Fein take its seats in Westminster?

Sinn Fein MPs have historically abstained from sitting in Westminster because they don’t agree with its jurisdiction over Northern Ireland, or the oath MPs make to the monarchy.

However it was rumoured this week that Sinn Fein could take its seven seats in Parliament in an attempt to block Mrs May’s Queen Speech.

The party quickly dismissed the claims, insisting that its seven members would continue to boycott the House of Commons.

Sinn Fein said in a statement: “They have elected us to represent them but not to take our seats.

“We will come over to Westminster to argue with other parties and to fight for our rights and to fight for the rights of Irish citizens.”

David Davis is set to carry out Brexit talks next week

Brussels calculates minimum Brexit bill the EU will thrust at David Davis before talks

BRUSSELS bureaucrats have reportedly raised their demands for Britain to cough up a minimum cost of €100billion (£84billion) before they hammer out a Brexit divorce settlement on Monday.

The Brexit bill is set to rise as eurocrats revise their initial calculations to increase the liabilities the UK must pay for, following demands from bitter members including France and Poland.

The €100bn figure is set to be the minimum payment demanded by eurocrats who are keen to spare its budget from Britain’s momentous decision to sever ties with the bloc.

The EU has insisted Brussels will not bow to Theresa May’s demands to talk trade until “sufficient progress” is made over the divorce settlement.

New calculations include Britain’s pensions liabilities, as well as its €251bn in budget commitments approved by the UK before 2019, known as reste a liquider, according to the Financial Times.

This means the Brexit bill has significantly increased from €40bn net and €60bn gross to €60bn net and €86bn gross.

EU bosses have broken down the €100bn eye-watering sum, with €84.5bn from the UK to honour financial commitments it made as a member state and £11.5bn of contingent liabilities and €1.7bn in development funding pledges.

Europe’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned he will not enter talks with the UK over its future trading relationship with the bloc before Britain met its financial liabilities.

Barnier will meet with David Davis on Monday for Brexit talks
Barnier will meet with David Davis on Monday for Brexit talks

The demands come after controversial snap election, which saw a gamble by Prime Minister Mrs May backfire on a stunning scale as she lost MPs while Labour gained.

Now, forced to form a minority government, the PM is trying to form a “confidence and supply” deal with Northern Ireland’s hardline DUP – but it could be days or even weeks before a government deal is agreed.

But David Davis and Michel Barnier have reportedly confirmed they are on track to start talks on Monday, June 19.

‘A century defined by religion’ Europe’s chief rabbi predicts seismic shift in EU politics

EUROPE is undergoing a seismic shift in its politics which will see the next century defined by conflicting views over the role of religion in public life, the continent’s chief rabbi has said.

In an interview with Pinchas Goldschmidt said politicians would find it increasingly difficult to walk the tightrope between their own personal views on faith on policies suited to a secular society.

He linked a number of political phenomenons globally, from the rise of the far-right in Europe to the election of Donald Trump in America, to a growing influence of religion on politics.

His comments came after the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron resigned earlier this week, citing questions about his Christian attitudes towards gay sex as a key factor in his decision.

Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt said it will be increasingly hard for politicians of faith
Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt said it will be increasingly hard for politicians of faith

Britain’s prime minister Theresa May, the daughter of a vicar, is also a Christian and has seen her own private views subject to much media questioning and scrutiny.

In a telephone interview from Moscow, chief rabbi Goldschmidt, said what was a predominantly secular 20th century has given way to a new age dominated by questions about how religion affects the global order.

He said: “The last century, the 20th Century, was the secular century. Then this century started with the most important moment, 9/11, which was a religious moment, because it was a war declared because of religion.

“This century is going to be more and more religious and religion is going to play a much more important role in its politics than during the last century.”

He pointed out that President Trump, who made much of his Christian faith on the campaign trail, chose “three destinations based on religion” for his first official tour outside the United States.

The Republican visited Muslim majority Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican City last month and made different speeches at all three which focussed heavily on religion’s role in world peace.

Chief rabbi Goldschmidt said: “Whether it was the right decision or the wrong decision I’m going going into it, but it symbolised how politics today is being defined by religion much more than before.”

And asked about the plight of Mr Farron, who said in his resignation speech it was “impossible to be a political leader and to live as a committed Christian”, he pointed to a seismic shift in the way the public sees politicians.

He said: “It used to be in the past that many politicians who were privately religious, of any faith, they divided their personal faith and their political views.

“There was a division – I’m religions at home and in the street I’m a politician.

“But I think as religion is more and more defining our politics, especially in a European context, it’s going to be more and more difficult to create this dividing line between a person’s religious beliefs and his policies.”

During the general election campaign Mr Farron was repeatedly grilled by interviewers over whether he thought gay sex was a sin, a question he initially avoided answering before saying he did not think that.

But the Lib Dem leader’s voting record on gay rights was largely positive – he backed key issues like same sex marriage – and the episode left some commentators uncomfortable at the image of a man being tormented over his own private religious views.

In a wide-ranging interview the chief rabbi also spoke at length about Brexit and the French election, expressing his relief at the defeat of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

The religious leader, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, predicted that the “radical right which wants to take Europe back to 1914” will subside if the EU can sort out its security and migration problems.

And he said the UK’s decision to leave the EU had created “a lot of doubt and uncertainty” amongst the Jewish community across Europe and urged both sides to reach a sensible Brexit deal.