Democratic and Republican senators reached a deal on Monday on legislation that would impose new sanctions against Russia for its recent attacks on American democracy. The agreement, which will be filed as an amendment to a pending Iran sanctions bill, also includes a provision that would require congressional approval if the Trump White House sought to suspend or end those sanctions.
The sanctions are meant to punish Russia for its repeated cyber attacks and interference in the 2016 US election, as well as its annexation of Crimea and role in a host of human rights abuses in Syria’s ongoing civil war.
The measure strengthens current sanctions, imposed under the Obama administration, and allows for new sanctions on Russian mining, metals, shipping and railways.
The legislation was drafted by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) of the Banking Committee and Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Bob Corker (R-TN) of the Committee on Foreign Relations.
A procedural vote was scheduled for Wednesday. On Thursday, the bill easily passed by an overwhelming 98-2 vote, with only Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) voting against it.
“These additional sanctions will … send a powerful and bipartisan statement to Russia and any other country who might try to interfere in our elections that they will be punished,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in a statement on Monday.
“By codifying existing sanctions and requiring congressional review of any decision to weaken or lift them, we are ensuring that the United States continues to punish President Putin for his reckless and destabilizing actions,” Schumer insisted.
Back in December, then-President Barack Obama closed two Russian compounds and expelled 35 Russian diplomats in the US and ordered additional sanctions on Russian spy agencies in response to damning reports from US intelligence regarding the Kremlin’s attacks on the 2016 US electoral process and the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russian spies. These penalties were added to already existing US sanctions put in place after Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine, which included annexation of the Crimean peninsula in early 2014.
President Trump, of course, has been dismissive about the role of Russian interference in the 2016 election, repeatedly calling the investigations into Russian meddling and possible ties to his campaign “a hoax” as well as “an excuse by the Democrats who lost an election that some people think they shouldn’t have lost.”
The bill will next have to pass the House of Representatives and be signed into law by Trump. Should Trump veto these sanctions, supporters say they believe that they will have enough congressional support to override a veto.
AshLee Strong, a spokesperson for House Speaker Paul Ryan, stressed that, “The speaker was a vocal proponent of the last round of sanctions and believes we must do more to hold Russia accountable,” adding that “The Foreign Affairs Committee is reviewing the details in this latest sanctions package being voted on in the Senate, and after that we will determine a path ahead in the House.”
In another rebuke to Trump’s foreign policy, the bill also reaffirms “the strategic importance” of NATO.
If it passes the House, President Donald Trump would have to either sign or veto a bill that the White House has had little response to so far.
– Danielle Bizzarro