Trump blasts sanc­tions bill, but he signs it

He says Rus­sia leg­is­la­tion im­pedes ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Vi­vian Salama, Richard Lard­ner, Josh Le­d­er­man, Vladimir Isachenkov and Lorne Cook of The As­so­ci­ated Press and by Abby Phillip, Ash­ley Parker, Karoun Demirjian and Scott Cle­ment of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Wed­nes­day signed what he called a “se­ri­ously flawed” bill im­pos­ing new sanc­tions on Rus­sia, pres­sured by his Repub­li­can Party not to move on his own to­ward a warmer re­la­tion­ship with Moscow in light of Rus­sian ac­tions.

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

Trump said the law will “pun­ish and de­ter bad be­hav­ior by the rogue regimes in Tehran and Py­ongyang” and en­hance ex­ist­ing sanc­tions on Moscow.

The pres­i­dent had been re­luc­tant to pro­ceed with the bill, even af­ter it was re­vised to in­clude some changes that Amer­i­can and Euro­pean com­pa­nies sought to en­sure that business deals were not sti­fled by new sanc­tions. He had ex­pressed frus­tra­tion over Congress’ abil­ity to limit or over­ride the power of the White House on na­tional se­cu­rity mat­ters, say­ing that it is com­pli­cat­ing ef­forts to co­or­di­nate with al­lies — a sen­ti­ment he ex­pressed in Wed­nes­day’s sign­ing state­ment.

In the state­ment, he ac­cused Congress of over­step­ping its con­sti­tu­tional bounds, im­ped­ing his abil­ity to ne­go­ti­ate with for­eign coun­tries and lack­ing any abil­ity to strike deals.

“The bill re­mains se­ri­ously flawed — par­tic­u­larly be­cause it en­croaches on the ex­ec­u­tive branch’s author­ity to ne­go­ti­ate,” Trump said.

“Congress could not even ne­go­ti­ate a health­care bill

af­ter seven years of talk­ing,” he con­tin­ued, re­fer­ring to law­mak­ers’ re­cent fail­ure to re­peal the Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion and Af­ford­able Care Act, as he and other Repub­li­cans have promised for years. “As pres­i­dent, I can make far bet­ter deals with for­eign coun­tries than Congress.”

Still, he said, “de­spite its prob­lems, I am sign­ing this bill for the sake of na­tional unity.”

Last week, the House over­whelm­ingly backed the bill, 419-3, and the Se­nate quickly fol­lowed, 98-2. Those mar­gins guar­an­teed that Congress would be able to beat back any veto at­tempt.

Trump has re­peat­edly cast doubt on the con­clu­sions of U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies that Rus­sia med­dled in the 2016 cam­paign with the in­ten­tion of tip­ping the elec­tion in his fa­vor.

He has blasted the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion as a “witch hunt.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the pres­i­dent’s con­cerns over the sanc­tions bill mis­placed.

“[Rus­sian Pres­i­dent] Vladimir Putin and his regime must pay a real price for at­tack­ing our democ­racy, vi­o­lat­ing hu­man rights, oc­cu­py­ing Crimea and desta­bi­liz­ing Ukraine,” McCain said. “Go­ing for­ward, I hope the pres­i­dent will be as vo­cal about Rus­sia’s ag­gres­sive be­hav­ior as he was about his con­cerns with this leg­is­la­tion.”

Trump’s talk of ex­tend­ing a hand of co­op­er­a­tion to Putin has been met by skep­ti­cal law­mak­ers look­ing to limit his lee­way. The new mea­sure tar­gets Rus­sia’s en­ergy sec­tor as part of leg­is­la­tion that pre­vents Trump from eas­ing sanc­tions on Moscow with­out con­gres­sional ap­proval.

Rus­sia wasn’t pleased. Putin re­sponded Sun­day by an­nounc­ing the U.S. would have to cut 755 of its em­bassy and con­sular staff in Rus­sia. And Prime Min­is­ter Dmitry Medvedev said in a Face­book post Wed­nes­day that “Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has demon­strated to­tal im­po­tence by sur­ren­der­ing its ex­ec­u­tive author­ity to Congress in the most hu­mil­i­at­ing way.”

Kon­stantin Kosachev, who heads the for­eign af­fairs com­mit­tee in the up­per house of the Rus­sian par­lia­ment, said the bill Trump signed “leaves no chance for a constructive co­op­er­a­tion with Rus­sia.”


The con­gres­sional re­view sec­tion of the bill that Trump ob­jects to was a key fea­ture for many mem­bers of Congress.

Trump will be re­quired to send a re­port ex­plain­ing why he wants to sus­pend or ter­mi­nate a par­tic­u­lar set of the sanc­tions on Rus­sia. Law­mak­ers would then have 30 days to de­cide whether to al­low that.

Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son echoed the pres­i­dent’s sen­ti­ments that the mea­sure poses more diplo­matic hin­drances than so­lu­tions.

“Nei­ther the pres­i­dent nor I are very happy about that,” Tiller­son said Tues­day. “We were clear that we didn’t think that was go­ing to be help­ful to our ef­forts, but that’s the de­ci­sion they made.”

Sean Kane, a for­mer of­fi­cial with the Trea­sury Depart­ment’s Of­fice of For­eign Assets Con­trol, said Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion had sought sim­i­lar wig­gle room when ne­go­ti­at­ing Iran sanc­tions with law­mak­ers.

“Th­ese is­sues have come up be­fore where an ad­min­is­tra­tion wants flex­i­bil­ity in place in a deal that would po­ten­tially lift sanc­tions, and Congress wants to tie the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s hands in some ways,” said Kane, who now works at the law firm Hughes Hub­bard & Reed.

Trump said Congress had “in­cluded a num­ber of clearly un­con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sions.”

But con­sti­tu­tional law ex­perts said Congress right­fully as­serted its con­sti­tu­tional pow­ers to serve as a check on the ex­ec­u­tive branch, even on mat­ters of na­tional se­cu­rity.

Michael Glen­non, a con­sti­tu­tional and na­tional se­cu­rity ex­pert from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplo­macy, said Trump’s state­ment con­tained a “gross mis­read­ing” of the case law he cited to bol­ster his claim that the con­gres­sional re­view pro­vi­sion had un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally robbed him of the power to ne­go­ti­ate.

“That’s ob­vi­ously a mis­guided in­ter­pre­ta­tion of his con­sti­tu­tional author­ity,” Glen­non said. “Congress has very broad author­ity over for­eign com­merce — it’s ex­plic­itly given the power to reg­u­late com­merce with for­eign na­tions. It could have, if it de­sired, im­posed those sanc­tions with­out giv­ing the pres­i­dent any waiver author­ity what­so­ever.”

Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, re­turn­ing Wed­nes­day from a trip to eastern Europe, touted Trump’s sign­ing of the sanc­tions bill as ev­i­dence that the White House strongly re­jects Rus­sian med­dling and mis­be­hav­ior around the world.

“His de­ci­sion to sign the Iran sanc­tions bill — or the Iran-North Korea-Rus­sia sanc­tions bill — I think is re­flec­tive of a de­sire to make sure that free­dom-lov­ing coun­tries around the world know that we are with them and that Rus­sia and the rogue regimes in North Korea and Iran know that this pres­i­dent and this ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­pect a change,” Pence said.

Though Trump signed the bill Wed­nes­day in the face of mount­ing bi­par­ti­san pres­sure, Pence said the orig­i­nal “con­cerns the pres­i­dent had about the process and the ef­forts the ad­min­is­tra­tion took to in­crease flex­i­bil­ity don’t change the fact that the di­rec­tion of th­ese sanc­tions is com­pletely con­sis­tent to the di­rec­tion that Pres­i­dent Trump has set.”

Last win­ter, just be­fore Trump was sworn in, a bi­par­ti­san group of se­na­tors un­veiled a bill de­signed to go beyond the pun­ish­ments al­ready levied against Rus­sia by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and to demon­strate to Trump that force­fully re­spond­ing to Moscow’s elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence wasn’t a par­ti­san issue.

Action on Rus­sia sanc­tions didn’t pick up un­til late May, when Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chair­man of the For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, threw his sup­port be­hind the ef­fort. The bill un­der­went re­vi­sions to avoid in­ad­ver­tently un­der­cut­ting U.S. firms or in­ter­fer­ing with how Euro­pean al­lies ac­quire en­ergy.

Law­mak­ers on both sides of the aisle cel­e­brated the pas­sage and sign­ing.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the bill sends a “pow­er­ful mes­sage to our ad­ver­saries that they will be held ac­count­able for their ac­tions.”

But the House’s top Demo­crat said Trump’s state­ment call­ing the bill “se­ri­ously flawed” raises ques­tions about whether his ad­min­is­tra­tion will fol­low the law.

Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi of Cal­i­for­nia said the Repub­li­can-led Congress must not al­low the White House to “wrig­gle out of its duty to im­pose th­ese sanc­tions for Rus­sia’s brazen as­sault on our democ­racy.”


Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chair­man of the For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee and a driv­ing force be­hind the Rus­sia sanc­tions bill, talks to re­porters Wed­nes­day on Capi­tol Hill.

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