(WASHINGTON) — President Trump is expected to sign off on punishing new sanctions against Russia for its interference in the 2016 presidential election, instead of vetoing the rare bipartisan piece of legislation that damages his push for better relations with Russia.
The bill requires the executive branch to get a resolution of approval for any changes to sanctions — a significant constriction on the president’s powers by his own party in Congress.
On Thursday, the Senate passed the new version of a bill that slaps Russia, Iran and North Korea with new sanctions while removing President Trump’s ability to alter them without Congressional approval. The House passed its version on Tuesday.
The White House announced Friday that Trump will sign the bill. His signature is expected some time this week, while Vice President Mike Pence is visiting American allies in eastern Europe.
Under current process, the president has 10 days to sign a bill or veto it — or, if he does nothing, the bill would become law without his signature.
Even though the president will sign it, the White House has expressed reservations about that aspect of the bill after the Senate first passed similar legislation last month, but without targeting North Korea. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Congress then that the White House wanted the “flexibility” to deal with Russia, and White House legislative director Marc Short expressed opposition to the “unusual precedent of delegating foreign policy to 535 members of Congress.”
There were also concerns among Republicans and in the oil and gas industry over a rule in the original Senate bill that would bar American companies and individuals from working with Russian-sanctioned companies and individuals on big oil and gas projects.
The compromise for the two parties and the two chambers was to combine the Russian, Iranian and North Korean sanctions into one bill, with moderate technical changes.
The bill would set into law Russian sanctions imposed by the Obama administration for Russia’s cyberattack on the Democratic Party and interference in the election, including the end of Russia’s access to two diplomatic compounds in the U.S. — one of which they are said to have used for espionage. It would also add penalties for Russian interference in Ukraine, Syria and the 2016 election hack.
The Trump administration would also be barred from making any changes to those sanctions or any others without congressional approval. They can apply for waivers, including if Russia makes progress on implementing the peace deal in Ukraine known as the Minsk agreement.
American businesses could also work with Russian entities on certain oil and gas projects outside of Russia as long as they don’t involve a sanctioned Russian individual or company owning a 33 percent stake or more.
While the bill would require Congressional approval on any changes, it does also give the president the ability to ask Congress to lift some of them if the White House can certify that certain conditions have been met — like Russian progress on the Minsk agreement or “significant” Russian efforts to “reduce the number and intensity of [its] cyber intrusions.” Like other sanctions, it also defers to the administration to designate new individuals and entities that are violating them and should be added.
The bill also includes new sanctions against Iran for its ballistic missile program and human rights violations, as well as on North Korea targeting its shipping industry and its use of forced labor abroad — two major sources of income for its missile and nuclear programs. It also requires the administration to report to Congress on the ties between Iran and North Korea and whether North Korea should be re-listed as a state sponsor of terrorism within 90 days.
The House passed its version 419 to 3, and the Senate vote was 98 to 2.
The resolution comes weeks after some squabbling among lawmakers. First, the Senate overwhelmingly passed its similar bill on Russia and Iran in June. The legislation then got stuck in the House, delayed over technical details, before the House wrote its own version, incorporating the bill they passed nearly unanimously in May for North Korea sanctions. After some negotiating, Senate Republican leadership agreed to take up that package.
The result was bipartisan support for an agreement that strongly rebukes Trump over his praise for Russian president Vladimir Putin, his calls for the U.S. and Russia to work together and his skepticism of the U.S. intelligence community’s finding that Russia interfered in the election.
“With near unanimous support in both chambers of Congress, this legislation sends a strong signal to Iran, Russia and North Korea that our country will stand firm and united in the face of their destabilizing behavior,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said in a statement Thursday night.
“A nearly united Congress is poised to send President Putin a clear message on behalf of the American people and our allies, and we need President Trump to help us deliver that message,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, Corker’s Democratic counterpart and the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Monday.
Initially, the White House sent mixed signals on its view of the legislation.
After first telling ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” on July 23 that the president supports the bill, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the next day that Trump “wants to make sure we get the best deal for the American people … He’s going to study that legislation and see what the final product looks like.”
Even on the day the Senate voted, the answer was no clearer. “We continue to support strong sanctions against those three countries and we’re going to wait and see what that final legislation looks like and make a decision at that point,” Sanders said at the White House press briefing, just hours before the scheduled vote.
But given the overwhelming majorities that approved the sanctions in Congress and the intense scrutiny over Trump’s ties to Russia, the administration chose to avoid a public backlash and an embarrassing override by Congress.
“He has now reviewed the final version and, based on its responsiveness to his negotiations, approves the bill and intends to sign it,” Sanders said in a statement late on Friday night.
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