After several days of delays, which prompted speculation among politicians and the media why the White House is dragging its feet on the issue and was the topic of several questions during Rex Tillerson’s Tuesday media press conference, moments ago the Donald Trump officially signed into law new Russian sanctions that prevent the president from acting unilaterally to remove certain sanctions on Russia and adds sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea.
“While I favor tough measures to punish and deter aggressive and destabilizing behavior by Iran, North Korea, and Russia, this legislation is significantly flawed,” Trump said in a statement announcing the signing.
Trump said he was concerned about the sanctions’ effect on work with European allies, and on American business. “My administration … 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,” he said.
There were conflicting signals from the administration in recent days about the sanctions, with Rex Tillerson telling reporters on Tuesday that he and Trump did not believe they would “be helpful to our efforts” on diplomacy with Russia. Mike Pence said that the bill showed Trump and Congress were speaking “with a unified voice.”
However, as Bloomberg also adds, the administration said it will carry out the law but “with reservations” about its impact and the constitutionality of some provisions.
The so-called signing statement, obtained by Bloomberg, lays out Trump’s concerns about the legislation, including that it encroaches on presidential authority and may hurt U.S. ability to work with allies.
Some more details on Trump’s reservations:
Trump’s statement doesn’t signal any intent to bypass or circumvent aspects of the law. Instead, the president indicates he intends for his administration to carry out the law in a way consistent with his constitutional authority, language that leaves open some room for interpretation of how the law is executed.
Trump’s concerns cover four areas: encroachment on executive authority, unintentional harm to U.S. companies and business, as well as U.S. international partners, and limits on the flexibility of the administration to act in concert with allies in dealing with Russia.
And while Russia already announced its response, expelling some 755 US diplomats and seizing two US compounds, the spotlight now shifts to the European Union – which previously warned of an “imminent response” if European companies are hobbled by sanctions aimed at squeezing Russia’s energy exports – whose retaliation will be unveiled shortly.
Previously, Congressional lawmakers said they wanted to prevent the president from acting unilaterally to lift penalties imposed by Trump’s predecessor, former President Barack Obama, for meddling in last year’s U.S. election and for aggression in Ukraine.
White House officials had argued that it hampered the president’s ability to negotiate. But the legislation cleared both the House and Senate by wide margins, indicating any presidential veto would be overridden. Recent presidents including Obama and George W. Bush also used signing statements to express displeasure or signal planned modifications to legislation they felt compelled to sign over their own objections.
“This is an area, though, where the administration is going to be watched very carefully,” said Peter Feaver, a Duke University professor and director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies, who served on the National Security Council staffs of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. This sanctions bill, he said, was passed “by overwhelming majorities in both houses and it’s on one of the most important issues of the day. If the president tries to wiggle out from under the constraints of the law, I think he will pay a high political price for doing so.” Feaver also said he expects Congress will replace this sanctions bill with one that returns more flexibility to Trump once the administration comes up with a clear and tough Russia policy.
In a second statement on the legislation, Trump said that, “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,” he added.
One Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, while welcoming the signing, was critical of the low-key way it was done, without the typical array of television cameras and reporters present.
“The fact (that) he does this kind of quietly I think reinforces the narrative that the Trump administration is not really serious about pushing back on Russia. And I think that is a mistake, too, because Putin will see this as a sign of weakness,” Graham said in a CNN interview.
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Trump’s full statement is below:
Subject: Statement by President Donald J. Trump on Signing the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act”
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 2, 2017
*Statement by President Donald J. Trump on Signing the Countering Americas Adversaries Through Sanctions Act*
Today, I signed into law the Countering Americas Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which enacts new sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia. 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.
That is why, since taking office, I have enacted tough new sanctions on Iran and North Korea, and shored up existing sanctions on Russia.
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.
My Administration has attempted to work with Congress to make this bill better. We have made progress and improved the language to give the Treasury Department greater flexibility in granting routine licenses to American businesses, people, and companies. The improved language also reflects feedback from our European allies who have been steadfast partners on Russia sanctions regarding the energy sanctions provided for in the legislation. The new language also ensures our agencies can delay sanctions on the intelligence and defense sectors, because those sanctions could negatively affect American companies and those of our allies.
Still, the bill remains seriously flawed particularly because it encroaches on the executive branchs authority to negotiate. Congress could not even negotiate a healthcare bill after seven years of talking. By limiting the Executives 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.
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.
Further, the bill sends a clear message to Iran and North Korea that the American people will not tolerate their dangerous and destabilizing behavior. America will continue to work closely with our friends and allies to check those countries malignant activities.
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.
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