Donald Trump has disturbed many by his admiration of and appeasement toward Russian President Vladimir Putin, his interactions with Russian officials and his baffling opposition to the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was behind efforts to influence the 2016 Presidential election. For those who have been holding their breath waiting for some action from Congress to reign in the Trump Administration’s game of footsie with Moscow, the United States Senate has now given them the opportunity to exhale.
On Wednesday, the Senate voted 97 to 2 on a measure to allow Congress to block the president’s efforts to ease sanctions against Russia without the consent of Congress. The measure also codifies existing sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea and engagement in the war in eastern Ukraine, and applies new sanctions against Russia for its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its meddling in the election.
Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) were the only ones who voted against the measure.
Back in May, the Trump administration was moving toward handing the two diplomatic compounds—one near New York City and one on Maryland’s Eastern Shore—back to Russia. The compounds had been reclaimed by the Obama administration in 2016 along with the expulsion of 35 Russian operatives from the U.S. in late December as punishment for Russian interference in the election.
The president’s recent actions to return control of the compounds to Moscow and his public skepticism of the intelligence community’s findings of Russian meddling in the past election have reportedly concerned lawmakers, and yesterday they acted on those concerns in an overwhelming majority.
“This legislation signals to the world the United States’ unflagging commitment to the sanctity of territorial integrity, human rights, and good governance,” Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), said in a statement. “It also demonstrates our resolve in responding to cyber-attacks against American citizens and entities and against our allies. The Crapo-Brown-Corker-Cardin bill will result in some very powerful, new sanctions against Russia.”
“This administration has been too eager, far too eager in my mind, to put sanctions relief on the table,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday. “We cannot let Russia’s meddling in our elections go unpunished, lest they ever consider something similar again.”
In testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson agreed with lawmakers from both parties that Russia did attempt to interfere in the U.S. elections and must be held accountable, but he warned them against passing anything that might impede the administration’s ability to improve relations with Russia in ways that can benefit the U.S.
The sanctions measure is part of a bill that the Senate is currently debating that imposes stricter punishments against Iran, which the White House favors. If the President were to oppose the measure against Russia, it would mean he would have to reject the whole bill. The bill reportedly has large bipartisan support both chambers, and any veto by the president would most likely be overturned.