Why Hasn’t Donald Trump Signed the Russian Sanctions Bill?

by Mark Sumner –

Donald Trump loves to make his indecipherable scrawl on big pieces of paper then hold them up for everyone to see. He also likes to brag about how he’s signed more legislation that anyone ever, even though A) that’s not true, and B) what he has signed has been somewhere on the low side of naming a post office. But last week, an actual piece of actual legislation arrived on Donald Trump’s desk. One that he said he would sign.

The White House said on Friday night that President Trump would sign legislation imposing sweeping sanctions against Russia and curtailing his own power to lift them by himself, bowing to the near-universal bipartisan will of Congress at the risk of escalating tension with Moscow.

But unlike all those executive orders and nonsense bills, the Russian sanctions are still sitting on Trump’s desk five days later, waiting for him to get out his Sharpie.

Major bills often have White House signing ceremonies, but Russian sanctions isn’t just any bill.

It’s a measure that actually restricts Trump’s ability to lift sanctions on Moscow. And it raises the specter of the controversy that has dogged Trump’s administration since it began — Russia’s meddling in last year’s election.

Speaking in Georgia on Monday (not the one with Atlanta, the other Georgia), Mike Pence said that Trump would sign the sanctions bill “soon.” But does “soon” mean within the next five days, because if Trump fails to sign by then, some interesting things could happen.

Including the sanctions not being enacted after all.

What happens to an unsigned bill is really up to Congress. The president has 10 days to review any legislation after it’s passed by Congress. In the normal course of things, if the president fails to sign in that period, the legislation simply becomes law anyway. Allowing legislation to pass in this way is something that presidents occasionally do when they want to express disapproval of a bill, but are either not so solidly against it to issue a veto or certain that any veto would be overridden.

In the case of the Russian sanctions, which came through the Senate on a vote of 98-2, any attempt by Trump to stop the bill would likely just lead to a quick override. So letting them set may be the best he can do.

But there’s another factor. If Congress adjourns during the 10 days after a bill is passed and the president still hasn’t signed … then it goes back to Congress. This event, a “pocket veto,” might seem like it should be pretty rare just considering the required timing. And in fact, President Obama had no pocket vetoes in 8 years. The same is true of George W. Bush. But George H. W. Bush let 15 bills fall into that pocket. Ronald Reagan 39. Looking further back, Dwight Eisenhower left his name off over 100 bills, more than he actively vetoed.

It seems unlikely that Trump will let the Russian sanctions die via pocket veto, especially when Putin has just booted hundreds of diplomats and Mike Pence is next door putting on a tough show. But of course, Trump has done some very unlikely things regarding Russia in the past, and we don’t know what he and Putin really talked about at the G20.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos