Congress overwhelmingly passed a package of stiff sanctions against Russia last Thursday, with a nearly unanimous 98-2 vote in the Senate, which followed a 419-3 vote in the House two days earlier.
The bill not only codifies a slew of existing sanctions against Russia, first issued by President Obama by executive order, but also includes a new review process that allows Congress to stop the White House from taking steps to ease sanctions without their approval. The bill also adds new financial sanctions against Russia, North Korea and Iran.
It’s clear US lawmakers don’t trust Trump to stand up to Putin.
On Friday night, the White said that President Trump would sign the legislation, apparently bowing to Congress’ will in its first show of unwavering bipartisanship, but the fate of the bill is far from certain.
Earlier this week, Trump’s new, and now former director of communications, Anthony Scaramucci, seemed to suggest that the president might veto the bill because the sanctions weren’t stiff enough — an excuse that was quickly dispatched by critics who pointed to the special counsel’s ongoing investigation into alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign as the sole reason for Trump’s otherwise inexplicable reluctance to punish Russia for its stunning attacks on American democracy.
Throughout his campaign, President Trump promised better relations with Russia and during the first weeks of his presidency, indicated that his administration might even be willing to unilaterally lift sanctions despite growing evidence that the Russian government had aggressively and effectively interfered in America’s election in 2016.
It’s Tuesday, however, and despite several promises from White House surrogates, President Trump has yet to sign the bill. At late as Tuesday morning, White House aides were still claiming that they’d not yet have the bill when questioned about the delay. According to several reports, however, the White House has had the bill since Friday.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the WH has not received the legislation so Trump can't sign the Russia sanctions bill.
That's not true. pic.twitter.com/RNKAs4MAEv
— Holly O'Reilly (@AynRandPaulRyan) August 1, 2017
Spox says he's "not sure" why the WH would claim otherwise. WH not returning my questions about whether Trump has the bill & plans to sign.
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) August 1, 2017
It’s no secret that President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson oppose the legislation. “The action by the Congress to put these sanctions in place and the way they did, neither the president nor I are very happy about that,” Tillerson told reporters during a press conference at the State Department on Tuesday. But Tillerson also acknowledged the “overwhelming way” in which Congress approved the bill, adding that “I think the president accepts that and all indications are he will sign that bill.”
Still many are worried by the elusive language and suspect that the President may be quietly trying to make use of a “pocket veto,” which, under the Constitution, is entirely legal and simply consists of leaving a bill unsigned at an opportune time — namely during a congressional recess. Friday, July 28, was the House of Representatives’ last day before the August recess, which lasts until September 5. The Senate’s recess, however, was delayed two weeks by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier this month in order to give the Senate enough time to vote on a series of GOP health care bills to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Hence, the Senate’s last day is now Friday, August 11.
“If Congress is in session, then a bill becomes law 10 days after the president receives it, unless the president vetoes it,” Dan Farber, professor of law at the University of California, told Newsweek. “But if Congress is not in session, then the bill dies unless it is signed by the president. This is called a pocket veto because the president can kill a bill just by ‘putting it in his pocket.’”
Senior GOP aides confirm the WH leg affairs team has the bill, which website lists as "pending & posted" as of 7/28. https://t.co/4wqtUaPtTY
— Kayla Tausche (@kaylatausche) August 1, 2017
Multiple WH & Hill Sources: Trump doesn't plan on ever signing the Russian sanctions bill—"Plan is to stall & delay" #SignSanctionsBill
— Scott Dworkin (@funder) August 1, 2017
Others have cast doubt on this theory, pointing out that a pocket veto is no longer an option and that the delay is likely due to lawyers having to review the language of the 70-page bill. Remember, if the Senate stays in session until August 11, and Trump has not signed it, the bill becomes law, without Trump’s signature.
ICYMI re pocket veto
10 day clock started on July 28th.
House IS in recess
Senate will be in recess Aug 11th/14th
POCKET VETO NOT an option.
— SeanSpicer's Mic (@Spicerlies) July 31, 2017
Vice President Mike Pence seemed intent on dispelling the notion on Tuesday when he announced, during a brief visit to the former Soviet republic of Georgia, that President Trump would soon sign the sanctions into law and reaffirmed America’s strong support of its eastern European allies in the face of Putin’s “destabilizing activities” in the region.
On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the expulsion of 755 employees from US diplomatic missions in his country in retaliation for the sanctions bill’s passage in Congress.
Tuesday’s announcement follows Pence’s meeting with the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on Monday, and echoed reassurances he gave to America’s NATO allies afterward: “Under President Donald Trump, the United States stands firmly behind our Article 5 pledge of mutual defense—an attack on one of us is an attack on us all.”
Still, it’s odd that the President himself has not yet commented on when he will sign the bill nor has he responded to Putin’s dramatic Cold War-style expulsion of US personnel on Sunday.
As of this afternoon, in fact, the President has yet to sign the bill, despite a plethora of news reports, generated primarily by Secretary Tillerson and Vice President Pence, saying he’s bound to do so soon. But then, again, it’s only Tuesday. Seven more days until…
– Danielle Bizzarro