The Senate Just Put Trump in a Very Awkward Position – Vanity Fair
It may take years for the Justice Department and special prosecutor Robert Mueller to determine whether the Donald Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government in the 2016 election, so in the meantime, the Senate isn’t taking any chances. On Monday night, senior senators from both sides of the aisle reached a deal that will level new sanctions against Moscow while also making it harder for the White House to ease any existing or future penalties against Russia. Expected to easily pass Congress with bipartisan support, the legislation represents the strongest action Republicans on Capitol Hill have taken against the Trump administration and puts the president in a unique quandary.
The possibility that the Trump White House would roll back Obama-era sanctions against Russia has been an enduring concern among lawmakers from both parties. Trump has long cast easing the sanctions against Moscow as a bargaining chip that could be used to spur cooperation from Russia in the fight against terrorism, and it has remained a chief concern of his foreign-policy agenda. During the election, Trump incited a wave of scrutiny when he began pushing a decidedly pro-Russian platform, which was later adopted by the G.O.P., and began voicing criticism of NATO, which he dismissed as obsolete. Mike Flynn was fired as national-security adviser after it emerged that he had misled other White House officials about a pre-inauguration conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who he reportedly suggested would receive more favorable treatment on the sanctions issue once Trump took office. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was also reported to have discussed opening a back-channel line of communication between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin. Even with his presidency mired in scandal over the Russia affair, Trump’s administration still reportedly reached out to Moscow about returning two alleged intelligence compounds, in New York and Maryland, that Obama had ordered cleared out in the wake of the 2016 election-hacking revelations.
Even among lawmakers who find Kremlingate overwrought, the president’s inexplicable affinity for Russia—even at the expense of U.S. interests—is nearly impossible to defend. With support from top Republicans and Democrats including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the Senate agreement would make it much more difficult for the Trump administration to make overtures to Moscow. The legislation, which is expected to be presented as an amendment to the Iran sanctions bill, would codify the existing sanctions against Moscow into law, require the White House to get congressional approval of any changes to the measures, and impose new sanctions on Russia for meddling in the 2016 election, according to Reuters.
The legislation, which could be voted on in the Senate as early as Wednesday, and is expected to survive the House, would put Trump in a supremely awkward position. The bill would land on the president’s desk as an obvious rebuke of his honeyed rhetoric toward Russia and continued attempts to warm diplomatic relations. Vetoing the bill would mean losing the support of Republicans at a critical time, not to mention fueling allegations of collusion. Signing it would allay some political pressure, but it would also mean that his efforts to move into closer alignment with Vladimir Putin—maneuvers that have come at an incredible political cost—would have been in vain.
On Tuesday, while testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stopped short of coming out in opposition of the sanctions agreement, telling the panel that he is still reviewing it. According to the Associated Press, Tillerson conceded that relations with Russia are at an all-time low, but cautioned against taking actions that would further alienate the Kremlin.