Following the approval from overwhelming majorities in both the House (419-3) and Senate (98-2), President Trump has just confirmed that he will sign the Russia sanctions bill into law. The confirmation comes despite days of speculation after Anthony Scaramucci told CNN that Trump could sign the sanctions bill or "veto the sanctions and negotiate an even tougher deal against the Russians."
"President Donald J. Trump read early drafts of the bill and negotiated regarding critical elements of it. He has now reviewed the final version and, based on its responsiveness to his negotiations, approves the bill and intends to sign it."
For those who missed it, here is some background on the bill from our prior posts:
Two days after the House passed bipartisan legislation in a 419-3 vote codifying and imposing further sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea and preventing the president from acting unilaterally to remove certain sanctions on Russia, moments ago the Senate also overwhelmingly approved the measure in a 98-2 vote. Only Senators Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders voting no. The bill will now head to the White House where it will be either signed into law by the president or vetoed, setting up a potential showdown with the White House over Russia. The move marks congressional Republicans' first rebuke of Trump's foreign policy, where the administration's warmer stance toward Russia has drawn heavy skepticism from both parties.
The three countries named in the bill are accused of violating “the international order” by Senator Bob Menendez, the former chairman of the foreign relations committee.
Under the bill, existing sanctions on Russia for its aggression in Ukraine and interference in the 2016 election would be codified into law. New sanctions would go into effect against Iran for its ballistic missile development, while North Korea’s shipping industry and people who use slave labor would be targeted amid the isolated nation’s efforts to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
While a full breakdown of the key details in the legislation is provided at the bottom of this post, in a nutshell the sanctions target Russian gas and pipeline developments by codifying six of Barack Obama’s executive orders implementing sanctions on Russia for its alleged interference in the US elections.
John McCain lauded the bipartisan process that supported the bill: “We will not tolerate attacks on our democracy!” the Senator, who chairs the armed services committee, said from the Senate floor. “That's what this bill is all about.”
The Senate passage now sends the sanctions bill to Trump's desk, although lawmakers expressed mixed expectations on whether the president would sign it into law. In recent days, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders offered mixed messages in recent days. On Sunday, Sanders told ABC’s “This Week” that the administration supports the bill. But on Monday, she told reporters on Air Force One that Trump is “going to study that legislation” before making a final decision.
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Should Trump sign the bill into law, a prompt Russian response is imminent. On Thursday, Russia's Kommersant newspaper reported that Russia is planning “symmetrical" response to earlier U.S. actions, including expelling diplomats and seizing U.S. Embassy properties, if and when Trump signs the new sanctions legislation.
It noted that Russia may take the Serebryany Bor vacation complex, and send home 35 diplomats, the same number as the Russian diplomats who were expelled by Barack Obama late in December. Komersant added that Russia may also limit maximum number of U.S. diplomatic personnel, which currently exceeds Russian staff in U.S.
Also on Thursday, Vladimir Putin said that Russia would be forced to retaliate if Washington pressed ahead with what he called illegal new sanctions against Moscow, describing U.S. conduct towards his country as boorish and unreasonable.
"As you know, we are exercising restraint and patience, but at some moment we'll have to retaliate. It's impossible to endlessly tolerate this boorishness towards our country," Putin told a joint news conference during a press conference in Findland.
"When will our response follow? What will it be? That will depend on the final version of the draft law which is now being debated in the U.S. Senate."
Putin also spoke about an ongoing diplomatic row between Moscow and Washington which erupted last December when then U.S. President Barack Obama ordered the seizure of Russian diplomatic property in the United States and the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats.
"This goes beyond all reasonable bounds," said Putin. "And now these sanctions - they are also absolutely unlawful from the point of view of international law." Calling the proposed sanctions "extremely cynical," Putin said the demarche looked like an attempt by Washington to use its "geopolitical advantages ... to safeguard its economic interests at the expense of its allies".
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But while Russia's adverse reaction is to be expected, it is the EU's response that will be closely watched.
According to an internal memo leaked to the FT earlier in the week, Brussles said it should act "within days" if new sanctions the US plans to impose on Russia prove to be damaging to Europe’s trade ties with Moscow. Retaliatory measures may include limiting US jurisdiction over EU companies. The memo, reported by the Financial Times and Politico, has emerged amid mounting European opposition to a US bill seeking to hit Russia with a new round of sanctions.