A nearly unanimous bipartisan Senate bill imposes sanctions on Russia for interfering with the election – and prevents Trump from being able to lift them. The White House objects.
Even as the White House remains consumed in scandal headlines about how Donald Trump's campaign may have worked with Russia to influence last year's U.S. election, the White House remains focused on trying to thwart would-be sanctions levied against Russia for its meddling.
The sanctions bill was passed by the Senate last month 98-2 and targets those “responsible for malicious cyber activity on behalf of the Russian government.” It's currently pending in the House.
The White House seems committed to running interference with regards to the sanctions bill. The administration’s current line of attack is to object to the Senate bill’s insistence that the president not be allowed to unilaterally lift the sanctions.
“The officials said the provision would infringe on the president's executive authority, according to an aide knowledgeable of the discussions,” the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
Meaning, the White House is fine with Congress passing sanctions to penalize Russia for interfering with the election — it just wants the power to lift the sanctions any time it wants.
Why did the Senate include that provision? Mostly likely because Trump himself earlier this year reportedly moved to unilaterally lift penalties that President Barack Obama put in place to punish the Russian government for interfering in U.S. elections.
Back in December, Obama announced announced punitive measures, including closing two compounds — one in Maryland and one in New York — reportedly used by Russian officials in furtherance of their espionage activities. Additionally, 35 Russian officials were named as “intelligence operatives” and expelled from the country.
In May, it was reported that Trump wanted to give the spy compounds back to the Russian government.
Note that following his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit, Trump tweeted that sanctions against Russia were not discussed. But on Monday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders contradicted that claim, telling reporters "sanctions specific to election-meddling were discussed" in the meeting.
The first round of U.S.-backed sanctions imposed on Russia began in 2014 in response to Russia annexing the Crimea territory of Ukraine. Putin is desperate to have those economic sanctions lifted in order to boost his country’s economy. And it seems Trump is desperate to help him.