Last month the Senate voted 97 to 2 in favor of stripping President Trump’s power to single-handedly remove current sanctions against Russia. The vote strengthens sanctions already in place against Russia for their interference in the 2016 presidential election, won by President Trump, and would empower Congress to stop presidential interference with the sanctions. That means that if President Trump, who is facing wide-spread accusations that he and his campaign team were involved in vary degrees in a coordinate effort with the Russian government and its interfering actors, tried to lift sanctions, he would need Congressional approval.
Last month, when that vote passed, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said: “This administration has been too eager, far too eager in my mind, to put sanctions relief on the table…We cannot let Russia’s meddling in our elections go unpunished, lest they ever consider something similar again.”
The Senate’s vote moved the measure to the House of Representatives, where it has been stalled primarily due to White House lobbying and interference. Trump’s Administration has reportedly been arguing that “President Trump needs flexibility to adjust the sanctions to fit his diplomatic initiatives with Moscow.”
Finally, news broke Saturday afternoon that the House had come to an agreement to implement “sweeping sanctions” against Russia for its election interference as well as for the country’s continued “aggression towards its neighbors.”
According to The New York Times, “the new legislation sharply limits the president’s ability to suspend or terminate the sanctions,” meaning that if President Trump attempted to veto this bill, he would likely face further accusations from the bipartisan congressional bodies of aiding Russia in their democratic meddling and malicious actions toward the United States.
Two senior aids to the White House told The Times that they “couldn’t imagine” President Trump deciding to veto the bill, though the 6 months of Trump’s presidency has shown how unpredictable this president can be, even to those closest to him.
Diminishing the likelihood that Trump would veto the bill are the added sanctions against Iran and North Korea, which are two nations the Trump administration has been most vocal about punishing.
The bill’s stalled journey through the House was said by Democrats to be due to Republicans “delaying quick action on the bill at the behest of the Trump administration, which had asked for more flexibility in its relationship with Russia and took up the cause of energy companies, defense contractors and other financial players who suggested that certain provisions could harm American businesses.”
Some Representatives voiced concerns that the sanctions added against two other countries could delay the revote on the bill in the Senate, but Senate leaders seemed to quell those fears readily this week. Senator Schumer seemed certain the measure would pass the Senate once again, even with the added changes. And, prior to leaving D.C. for the surgery that revealed he has brain cancer this week, Senator John McCain of Arizona was quoted as saying simply “Pass it, for Christ’s sake.”
The “Russia question” or “questions” surrounding the Trump Administration continue to grow seemingly exponentially by the day. The same day the sanctions were passed in the House, media reports stated that even third party candidate Jill Stein had been ensnared in the net fishing for Trump-Russia connections. Stein, who made headlines just after the election for her crowd-funded efforts for election recounts in several states, has been included in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s request for Donald Trump Jr.’s communications with a list that includes many other, in regards to the now-infamous meeting he had last year with a Russian lawyer proporting to have “dirt” on Hillary Clinton and offering assistance to the Trump campaign on behalf of the Russian government.
Stein called the idea that she would have communicated with Trump Jr. “laughable” on Twitte.r
There is a growing list of people in Trump’s circle who are under official scrutiny in regards to the Russian meddling, which is more than enough reason for Congress to want to limit Trump’s ability to be lenient with the Russian Government. Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russian lawyer and others was originally reported as a meeting about “adoptions,” with that term being played off as innocuous by Trump’s defenders. “Adoptions” in the Russian playbook, however, are inseparable from sanctions, as Putin discontinued Russian adoptions by foreigners in response to the sanctions originally levied against them for their election interference last year. Negotiating adoptions, which both Trump Jr. and Trump Sr. have admitted they discussed with Russian representatives (Trump Sr. with Putin himself at the G20 Summit in Germany last month) would mean intrinsically negotiating sanctions.
No matter who in Congress continues to defend or excuse Donald Trump’s actions as president, or shrug off the cries of collusion, conspiracy and treason, it is clear that the overwhelming majority of congress-members, on both sides of the aisle, do not want Trump to have the power to go easy on the Russians. The Trump Administration’s protests of the sanctions bill doesn’t look good for them and Trump will have to be careful how he navigates the bill going forward. He has some immunity when it comes to Republicans wanting to pass their legislation and support their base (which still strongly supports Trump) but, clearly, that “immunity” only goes so far.