Trump ready to sign Rus­sia sanc­tions bill, Mos­cow re­tal­i­ates

El Dorado News-Times - - Opinion -

WASH­ING­TON (AP) — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump will sign a pack­age of stiff fi­nan­cial sanc­tions against Rus­sia that passed Congress with over­whelm­ing sup­port, the White House said Fri­day. Mos­cow has al­ready re­sponded, or­der­ing a re­duc­tion in the num­ber of U.S. diplo­mats in Rus­sia and clos­ing the U.S. Em­bassy's recre­ation re­treat.

Trump's willing­ness to sup­port the mea­sure is a re­mark­able ac­knowl­edge­ment that he has yet to sell his party on his hopes for forg­ing a warmer re­la­tion­ship with Mos­cow. His vow to ex­tend a hand of co­op­er­a­tion to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin has been met with re­sis­tance as skep­ti­cal law­mak­ers look to limit the pres­i­dent's lee­way to go easy on Mos­cow over its med­dling in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

The Se­nate passed the bill, 98-2, two days af­ter the House pushed the mea­sure through by an over­whelm­ing mar­gin, 419-3. Both were ve­to­proof num­bers.

The White House ini­tially wa­vered on whether the pres­i­dent would sign the mea­sure into law. But in a state­ment late Fri­day, press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said Trump had "re­viewed the fi­nal ver­sion and, based on its re­spon­sive­ness to his ne­go­ti­a­tions, ap­proves the bill and in­tends to sign it."

Never in doubt was a cor­ner­stone of the leg­is­la­tion that bars Trump from eas­ing or waiv­ing the ad­di­tional penal­ties on Rus­sia un­less Congress agrees. The pro­vi­sions were in­cluded to as­suage con­cerns among law­mak­ers that the pres­i­dent's push for bet­ter re­la­tions with Mos­cow might lead him to re­lax the penal­ties with­out first se­cur­ing con­ces­sions from the Krem­lin.

The leg­is­la­tion is aimed at pun­ish­ing Mos­cow for in­ter­fer­ing in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and for its mil­i­tary ag­gres­sion in Ukraine and Syria, where the Krem­lin has backed Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad. It also im­poses fi­nan­cial sanc­tions against Iran and North Korea.

Be­fore Trump's de­ci­sion to sign the bill into law, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the bill's pas­sage was long over­due, a jab at Trump and the GOP-con­trolled Congress. McCain, chair­man of the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, has called Putin a mur­derer and a thug.

"Over the last eight months what price has Rus­sia paid for at­tack­ing our elec­tions?" McCain asked. "Very lit­tle."

Rus­sia's For­eign Min­istry on Fri­day said it is or­der­ing the U.S. Em­bassy in Rus­sia to re­duce the num­ber of its diplo­mats by Sept. 1. Rus­sia will also close down the em­bassy's recre­ational re­treat on the out­skirts of Mos­cow as well as ware­house fa­cil­i­ties.

Mean­while, some Euro­pean coun­tries ex­pressed con­cerns that the mea­sures tar­get­ing Rus­sia's en­ergy sec­tor would harm its busi­nesses in­volved in pip­ing Rus­sian nat­u­ral gas. Ger­many's for­eign min­is­ter said his coun­try wouldn't ac­cept the U.S. sanc­tions against Rus­sia be­ing ap­plied to Euro­pean com­pa­nies.

A spokesman for the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion said Fri­day that Euro­pean of­fi­cials will be watch­ing the U.S. ef­fort closely, vow­ing to "re­main vig­i­lant."

Trump had pri­vately ex­pressed frus­tra­tion over Congress' abil­ity to limit or over­ride the power of the pres­i­dent on na­tional se­cu­rity mat­ters, ac­cord­ing to Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials and ad­vis­ers. They spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss in­ter­nal White House de­lib­er­a­tions.

But faced with heavy bi­par­ti­san sup­port for the bill in the House and Se­nate, the pres­i­dent had lit­tle choice but to sign the bill into law. Trump's com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, An­thony Scara­mucci, had sug­gested Thurs­day that Trump might veto the bill and "ne­go­ti­ate an even tougher deal against the Rus­sians."

But Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said that would be a se­ri­ous mis­take and called Scara­mucci's re­mark an "off-handed com­ment." If Trump re­jected the bill, Corker said, Congress would over­rule him.

"I can­not imag­ine any­body is se­ri­ously think­ing about ve­to­ing this bill," said Corker, chair­man of the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee. "It's not good for any pres­i­dent — and most gover­nors don't like to veto things that are go­ing to be over­rid­den. It shows a di­min­ish­ment of their au­thor­ity. I just don't think that's a good way to start off as pres­i­dent."

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