WASHINGTON — President Trump today signed veto-proof sanctions legislation targeting Russia, Iran and North Korea, accompanied by a signing statement complaining that Congress had tied his business-dealmaking skills with the stipulation that lawmakers approval any Russia sanctions rollback and that the bill didn’t recognize Russian rule over land forcibly taken.
There was no formal signing ceremony for the bill that passed the Senate 98-2 and the House 419-3. The original bill passed out of the Senate covering just Iran and Russia; the White House had been trying to get House Republicans to water down the language in the bill tied to sanctions rollback, arguing the administration must retain foreign policy flexibility.
Once the legislation went to the lower chamber, the House Ways and Means Committee held it on the charge that it could be a “blue slip” violation — running afoul of the origination clause requiring revenue-generating measures to originate in the House — even though senators said they worked with the House early in the process to clear up any such issues.
Frustrated with the stall, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) drafted a House-originated version that added North Korea. The bill was presented to the president for signing on Friday.
Russia didn’t wait. President Vladimir Putin ordered 755 American diplomatic personnel be cut and two diplomatic facilities in Moscow be shut down. “As you might have noticed, we waited quite some time in the hope things would change for the better,” Putin told state television in an interview Sunday. “We hoped that the situation would change, but judging by everything, if it is going to change, then it won’t be soon… we have to show that we will not let this go unanswered.” The White House has said it’s “reviewing our options” on a response, and Trump has not fired back at Putin’s punitive measures on Twitter.
The White House issued a signing statement today calling the bill “significantly flawed” and charged that provisions were “clearly unconstitutional,” specifically complaining about Section 253, which does not recognize Russia’s territorial seizures: “The United States, consistent with the principle of ex injuria jus non oritur, supports the policy known as the ‘Stimson Doctrine’ and thus does not recognize territorial changes effected by force, including the illegal invasions and occupations of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, and Transnistria,” the bill states.
Trump said that and Section 257, which promotes Ukraine’s energy security, “purport to displace the president’s exclusive constitutional authority to recognize foreign governments, including their territorial bounds.”
He also said the congressional review section “seeks to grant the Congress the ability to change the law outside the constitutionally required process.”
The president also complained that sections about Iran ballistic missile sanctions, enforcement of arms embargoes, Russia sanctions, cybersecurity sanctions on Moscow, corruption and human rights sanctions on Russia, and arms sales to Syria “would require me to deny certain individuals entry into the United States, without an exception for the president’s responsibility to receive ambassadors.”‘
“My administration particularly expects the Congress to refrain from using this flawed bill to hinder our important work with European allies to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, and from using it to hinder our efforts to address any unintended consequences it may have for American businesses, our friends, or our allies,” Trump added.
In a lengthy statement accompanying the official signing statement, Trump said, “I favor tough measures to punish and deter bad behavior by the rogue regimes in Tehran and Pyongyang.”
“I also support making clear that America will not tolerate interference in our democratic process, and that we will side with our allies and friends against Russian subversion and destabilization,” he added.
Trump noted that “since this bill was first introduced, I have expressed my concerns to Congress about the many ways it improperly encroaches on executive power, disadvantages American companies, and hurts the interests of our European allies.”
He said that despite attempts “to work with Congress to make this bill better,” the bill “remains seriously flawed – particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate.”
“Congress could not even negotiate a healthcare bill after seven years of talking. 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. The Framers of our Constitution put foreign affairs in the hands of the president. This bill will prove the wisdom of that choice,” he said.
“Yet despite its problems, I am signing this bill for the sake of national unity. It represents the will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States. We hope there will be cooperation between our two countries on major global issues so that these sanctions will no longer be necessary.”
After noting that the bill “sends a clear message to Iran and North Korea that the American people will not tolerate their dangerous and destabilizing behavior,” Trump signed off with this: “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.”
Neither statement mentioned Putin’s expulsion of U.S. diplomats.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said he’s “relieved” Trump signed the bill, but “this is not about President Trump and his negotiation skills, it’s about America.”
“I expect the administration to deploy diplomats and Treasury officials in the coming days to work closely with our allies around the world and lead a sustained effort to enhance pressure on Moscow,” Cardin added. “I remain very concerned that this administration will seek to strike a deal with Moscow that is not in the national security interests of the United States. This important legislation will help to prevent that eventuality and I stand ready to exercise the congressional review provisions, which are now laid out in statute.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Trump’s signing statement “raises serious questions about whether his administration intends to follow the law, or whether he will continue to enable and reward Vladimir Putin’s aggression.”
“The Republican Congress must not permit the Trump White House to wriggle out of its duty to impose these sanctions for Russia’s brazen assault on our democracy,” she said. “Democrats will demand tough oversight to ensure strong and immediate implementation of the sanctions law.”
Pelosi also renewed her call for the formation of an outside, independent commission, similar to the 9/11 Commission, “to expose the full extent of the Kremlin’s meddling in our elections and prevent it from ever happening again.”
Asked on Fox News if Trump had a conversation with Putin before signing the bill, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said she couldn’t comment.