WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s spokesman suggested Thursday that Trump may veto a massively popular bill designed to restrain his ability to roll back sanctions against Russia, despite the very strong likelihood that lawmakers will have the votes to override it.
White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said on CNN that Trump “may sign the sanctions exactly the way they are, or he may veto the sanctions and negotiate an even tougher deal against the Russians,” citing Trump’s “counterintuitive, counterpunching personality” to explain why the president is considering a veto.
It is unlikely that promise will resonate well with members of Congress, many of whom have banded around the sanctions bill because they are concerned that Trump is fostering a too-warm relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and they fear Trump will scale back election-related sanctions against Moscow.
Congress has approved an unprecedented oversight role for itself in the Russia-focused portion of the sanctions bill, which also stiffens punitive measures against Iran and North Korea. Under the bill, the president is required to notify Congress before making any alterations to Russia sanctions policy, and lawmakers then have 30 days in which they can block the president from implementing those changes.
Such matters have traditionally been left to the executive branch once Congress authorizes the sanctions at the administration’s disposal. Even in the case of mandatory sanctions, Congress usually steers clear of the president on matters of national security.
But lawmakers are been worried by hints that the Trump administration might make concessions to Russia, specifically sanctions that the Kremlin has sought to have lifted. The administration has considered handing back to Russia control of two U.S. compounds the Obama administration seized at the end of last year, accusing Moscow of using them for intelligence purposes. And Trump and his surrogates have spoken to Putin and other Russian operatives about restoring the ability of U.S. citizens to adopt children from Russia – which the Kremlin won’t allow until the United States repeals the Magnitsky Act and Global Magnitsky Act sanctioning human-rights violators.
House and Senate leaders were unmoved by the Trump administration’s repeated efforts to remove Congress’ 30-day review power from the legislation. In fact, the final dispute among congressional leaders had to do with senators wanting to apply a similar congressional review provision to the North Korea sanctions portion of the bill. In the deal they struck Wednesday night, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said he secured a promise from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., that the House would take up such enhancements in the near future in exchange for the Senate passing the House-approved sanctions bill this week.
The House voted 419 to 3 for the legislation, which also increases sanctions against Russia over its involvement in the wars in Ukraine and Syria, as well as allegations it meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It also stiffens punitive measures against Iran and North Korea in an attempt to curtail those countries’ ballistic missile tests and other aggressive activities.
The Senate voted 98 to 2 last month for a very similar bill addressing only Russia and Iran.