White House Pressured Democratic Lawmakers to Drop Syrian Sanctions Bill

Washington Post reports that House Democrats were lobbied to shelf legislation because of bad timing with cease-fire.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., left, listening to the committee's ranking member Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 14, 2016.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

The White House secretly pressured House Democrats to back down from pushing through a bill that would have levied sanctions against the Assad regime in Syria, The Washington Post reported in an exclusive Tuesday.

Over 50 Congressmen, mostly Democrats, had cosponsored the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, named after a defector who photographically documented thousands of cases of torture and murder perpetrated by the regime of Bashar Assad. The bill was drafted "to impose sanctions on people and entities responsible for the security and humanitarian crisis in Syria," according to the Congressional Budget Office.

However, White House legislative affairs staffers began lobbying the leadership of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to put the bill under wraps, the Post reported. The Democratic House leadership reportedly caved in to the pressure.

“After President Obama’s disastrous handling of Syria, he’s now adding insult to injury by pressuring House Democrats to kill a bipartisan bill aimed at cleaning up his mess,” House Speaker Paul Ryan’s press secretary, AshLee Strong, told the Post. “We hope members will have a chance to vote on this important legislation soon.”

The primary author of the bill was Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, along with Rep. Ed Royce, his Republican counterpart from California.

“I’m dismayed that the administration seems to be throwing up roadblocks to our bipartisan effort to cut off the resources Assad uses to annihilate his own people, and I will continue working to find a path forward for this important legislation,” said Royce.

A White House official reportedly told the Post that discussing legislation with members of Congress is normal, insisting that the Democrats pulled the bill of their own volition. Yet Congressional Democrats said they yielded to the administration's argument that the timing was bad because of the delicate situation with the Russians and the latest, shaky cease-fire.