Trump lashes out while signing Russia sanctions bill

President Trump lashed out at Congress while signing legislation on Wednesday that imposes new sanctions on Russia, arguing the bill limited his executive power and ability to negotiate with Moscow.

“By limiting the executive’s flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people, and will drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together,” Trump said in a sharply-worded statement. 

The bill approved by Congress with overwhelming, veto-proof majorities limits the president’s ability to lift sanctions on Russia or return diplomatic compounds seized by the Obama administration in retaliation for Russian election meddling.

ADVERTISEMENT
It does so by giving Congress 30 days to review and potentially block efforts by the president to lift or relax sanctions on Russia.

Trump called the bill “seriously flawed” and said it contains “a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions” that limit his ability to dictate sanctions without congressional approval.

“The framers of our Constitution put foreign affairs in the hands of the president,” he added. “This bill will prove the wisdom of that choice.”

The signing is a defeat for the White House, which had sought to change the bill after it was first approved by the Senate.

Trump’s signature comes less than a week after the Senate sent a new measure approved by the House to his desk. The White House had said the president intended to sign it, but some doubted he would follow through given his deep reservations. 

A veto would have almost certainly been overridden by Congress. The bill was approved 98-2 in the Senate and 419-3 in the House.

Trump said he signed the legislation, “despite its problems,” for the sake of “national unity.”

But Trump also took a shot at lawmakers over their failure to pass a bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

“The bill ... encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate,” he said. “Congress could not even negotiate a healthcare bill after seven years of talking.”

He also touted his career in real estate to argue that he — and not Congress — is better equipped to lead U.S. foreign policy.

“I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As president, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress,” he said. 

Trump has sought to form close ties with Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin, even amid the widening investigations into whether his associates colluded with Moscow to tip the 2016 election in his favor. 

The Trump administration is believed to be considering restoring Russian access to two diplomatic compounds the Obama administration seized last year in retaliation for its campaign meddling.

But those measures appear to be off the table — at least for now. Moscow retaliated against Washington for the new sanctions, ordering the U.S. diplomatic mission there to cut its staff by 755 people. 

Trump has not commented on those penalties. 

The new law reflects lawmakers’ deep concern about Trump’s eagerness to reset relations with Moscow, a major U.S. adversary. It slaps new financial penalties on Russia and codifies existing sanctions for its 2014 military intervention in Ukraine and for interfering in last year’s election. 

The law limits the president’s power to lift sanctions or to return the diplomatic compounds by giving Congress 30 days — or 60 days around the August recess — to review and potentially block Trump from lifting or relaxing sanctions on Russia.

In addition, the new law will codify the Obama-era sanctions on Russia and will allow the Trump administration to impose new sanctions.

Beyond their worries about restrictions on Trump’s authority, Trump administration officials expressed concern that it could hurt American companies with business interests in Russia. 

The law also includes new penalties against Iran over its ballistic missile program and targets North Korea’s shipping industry, as well as other nations that use slave labor.