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Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

The New York Times reported Wednesday that the White House has been "quietly lobbying House Republicans to weaken a bill overwhelmingly passed by the Senate last week that would slap tough new sanctions on Russia for its meddling in the 2016 election and allow Congress to block any future move by President Trump to lift any penalties against Moscow."

Meanwhile, Democrats and some sources in the corporate sector are speculating that a procedural delay is merely cover by House leaders to slow-walk and ultimately water down the bill.

How the White House sees it: An administration source tells me the White House doesn't want to weaken the current sanctions regime against Russia. What the administration objects to is Congress tying its hands and preventing it from getting rid of sanctions if the White House deems that Russia is cooperating on certain issues. Administration officials say they need that flexibility to conduct diplomacy and if they have to go to Congress to get approval to waive sanctions it will get bogged down and they won't have carrots to encourage good behavior.

Also, not so fast: three House Republican sources involved in the process tell me the House bill is shaping up to look very similar to the Iran-Russia sanctions bill that passed the Senate. And leadership thinks it's likely to move pretty fast. House Speaker Paul Ryan wants tough sanctions on Russia, as does Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce, who is driving the process.

  • A GOP aide close to issue told me there could be minor technical fixes to the bill that even some Senate staffers who worked on the original privately acknowledge need to be made. The bill would then be sent back to the House and if Chairman Royce gets his way it will proceed quickly to the floor and to the President's desk.

The big question: will President Trump risk using his veto pen on this legislation if it passes as originally written? Most GOP sources I've spoken to doubt it. While Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said the administration needs more flexibility to over the Russia-Ukraine conflict — and believes the new sanctions package is unhelpful to that end — Trump can't risk getting his veto overridden by Congress. It looks like there'd be more than enough votes to do so, given the Senate voted 98-2 in favor of the original sanctions package.

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
1 hour ago - World

Courage vs. coddling with China

Peng Shuai of China serves during the China Open in Beijing in 2017. Photo: Andy Wong/AP

The women's professional tennis tour suspended tournaments in China Wednesday out of concern for Peng Shuai, on the same day that a top business voice made excuses for Beijing.

Why it matters: Ahead of February's Winter Olympics in Beijing, some sports figures are taking on the regime — while Big Business shrinks from confrontation with the world's second-largest economy.

2 hours ago - Sports

What to know about the first MLB lockout since 1995

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Hope you enjoyed the recent flurry of free-agent activity, because it's likely the last non-lockout-related MLB news for a while.

Driving the news: The owners locked out the players after the collective bargaining agreement expired at midnight last night, leading to MLB's ninth work stoppage — and first since 1995.

Biden extends mask mandates for travelers into 2022

President Biden delivers remarks at the White House on Dec. 1. Photo: Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

President Biden will announce new testing protocols for international travelers on Thursday and extend masking requirements through March as the U.S. prepares to fight the Omicron variant this winter, according to senior administration officials.

Driving the news: The U.S. will tighten pre-departure testing protocols starting early next week by requiring all inbound international travelers to take COVID-19 tests within one day of their departure rather than three.