foreign policy

Congress Set to Pass Trump-Proof Russia Sanctions, White House Signals Support

Passing the sanctions bill is likely to be a rare bipartisan moment in Congress. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The House and Senate have reached a deal on a bill that would impose new financial sanctions on Russia and allow Congress to review and veto any attempt by President Trump, or any other president, to independently ease those sanctions in the future. The Senate, looking to punish the Kremlin for meddling in last year’s presidential election, passed a version of the bill by a nearly unanimous margin in June, but it has been stalled in the House for weeks due to procedural issues, pressure from industry groups, and a White House bent on weakening the proposed congressional-review power. On Saturday, however, negotiators from the House and Senate ironed out a deal that did not include the changes the Trump administration wanted.

Regardless, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders now says that the White House supports the new version of the bill. That would seem to indicate that Trump will sign it into law, but wait until the ink is dry when it comes to anything this administration says.

In addition to the measures against Russia, the bill includes new sanctions on Iran (over its ballistic-missile tests) and North Korea (over its nuclear program). It also somewhat eased the concerns of the oil-and-gas industry, which worried that American companies would face an impossible amount of red tape if they attempted to partner with Russian businesses.

The tweaked bill will likely receive a full vote on Tuesday and is expected to pass with wide bipartisan support, setting up a potentially difficult choice for the president. Trump has never seemed to take Russia’s meddling in last year’s election very seriously — instead trying to downplay it — and the president has also never seemed overly concerned about appearing too friendly with the Kremlin, either. (In Trump’s defense, any White House administration would object to Congress attempting to reduce its authority to deal with foreign powers.) But the New York Times reported on Saturday that “two senior administration officials said they could not imagine Mr. Trump vetoing the legislation in the current political atmosphere.” And Trump’s ability to exceed the limits of imagination aside, Sarah Huckabee Sanders offered firmer official support on Sunday. During an appearance on ABC’s This Week, the new White House press secretary was asked if the president would sign the bill, and she indicated that he would:

Look, the administration is supportive of being tough on Russia, particularly in putting these sanctions in place. The original piece of legislation was poorly written, but we were able to work with the House and Senate. And the administration is happy with the ability to do that and make those changes that were necessary. And we support where the legislation is now, and will continue to work with the House and Senate to put those tough sanctions in place on Russia until the situation in Ukraine is fully resolved. But it certainly isn’t right now.

On the other hand, new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said that the president “hasn’t made the decision yet to sign that bill one way or the other” during an interview with CNN on Sunday.

If Sanders is wrong and Trump does veto the bill, it will be interesting to see if Republicans in Congress would be willing to override him. Then again, even if the bill does become law, there is no guarantee that GOP lawmakers will challenge any attempt by Trump to ease the sanctions — though, members of the House’s majority party won’t be the only ones who get to call for such a review. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer declared on Saturday that he was pleased with the legislation, which he says “ensures that both the majority and minority are able to exercise our oversight role over the administration’s implementation of sanctions.”

This post has been updated to include reporting from the New York Times, as well as comments from Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Anthony Scaramucci on Sunday.

Congress Set to Pass Trump-Proof Russia Sanctions