The White House Picked the Worst Week Ever to Lobby for Weaker Sanctions on Russia

by Addy Baird –

The bill flew through the Senate but has stalled in the House in the midst of a collusion scandal involving the Kremlin and the Trumps.

On the day before Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted evidence that he aimed to collude with the Russian government during the 2016 election, the White House legislative director was on the Hill lobbying against central parts of a bill that would impose sanctions on Russia.

POLITICO reported Monday that White House legislative director Marc Short was encouraging members of Congress to water down the bill, which passed the Senate by a margin of 98–2 but has since stalled in the lower chamber. The White House says the bill would strip the administration of necessary foreign policy flexibility.

“Our concern is that the legislation, we believe, sets an unusual precedent of delegating foreign policy to 535 members of Congress by not including certain national security waivers that have always been consistently part of sanctions bills in the past,” Short told reporters.

The economic sanctions are part of a package that also places sanctions on Iran. The implementation of the sanctions would hit Russia’s defense and energy sectors, as well as keep Trump from unilaterally lifting existing sanctions on the country.

“The most significant part [is that] it really hammers the Russian defense industrial complex,” said Max Bergmann, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent outlet housed at CAP.)

The bill also puts in place secondary sanctions that would impact countries that buy Russian military equipment, which has been a central way the Russian government has monetized its military. In addition to defense sanctions, the bill contains an energy component, which would impose mandatory secondary sanctions on arctic deep water energy exploration.

“Russia doesn’t have the capacity to fully develop its energy without foreign investment, so by putting sanctions on foreign energy companies that would go in and invest in Russia, that would … really hurt Russia’s ability to develop these resources,” Bergmann said.

The bill also creates a congressional review process should Trump try to ease current sanctions.

Stories about Trump’s connections to Russia have been swirling since last year, but the controversy has reached a fever pitch after The New York Times reported over the weekend that Trump’s son Donald Trump, Jr. met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer who promised damaging information about former Secretary of State and Democratic nominee for president Hillary Clinton.

On Tuesday, Trump, Jr., in what seemed to be a masochistic attempt at transparency, tweeted out screenshots of emails that show Trump, Jr. and other campaign officials believed the information they would be provided would come directly from the Russian government.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Here’s my statement and the full email chain

The tweet quickly sparked a firestorm of speculation that Trump, Jr. could face legal repercussions for the meeting, and many have called it the “smoking gun” in the long-lasting saga of Trump’s possible collusion with the Kremlin.

View image on Twitter

Here is page 4 (which did not post due to space constraints).

If the bill does pass the House, Bergmann said he believes Trump has no choice but to sign the bill into law, especially if Congress has a veto-proof majority.

“Let’s say he is everything we fear that he might be in terms of like a Russian agent,” Bergmann said. “He could legitimately go to Vladimir Putin and say, ‘I’m going to sign this, because it doesn’t matter if I do or if I don’t, and if I don’t sign it I’ll be hammered, it will be a huge embarrassment,’ so I don’t see how he doesn’t sign it.”

And if the House doesn’t pass the sanctions, Bergmann said he thinks Republicans who are up for reelection in 2018 could face grave consequences.

“I think this will be a major 2018 election issue,” he said, “that Republicans were unwilling to stand up and defend the United States when it was down.”

But for now, the bill is stuck in the House, with both sides pointing fingers.

House Republicans say Democrats are blocking the bill over a provision that would keep them from reversing possible changes the Trump administration might make to sanctions against Russia, while House Democrats say it’s Republicans who are holding up the bill.

“For weeks House Democrats have been calling for immediate action on the Senate bill and the House GOP has used every trick in the book to stall. Republicans could put the bipartisan Senate passed Russia sanctions bill on the President desk tomorrow,” Ashley Etienne, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said in a statement. “Instead they’re searching high and low for excuses to drag out the process, weaken the bill, and let Russia and the White House off the hook. House Republicans need to end this charade.”


Reprinted with permission from Think Progress