President Donald Trump’s administration missed its deadline to implement sanctions on Russia — and Republicans in Congress are starting to worry about why.
"I'm going to get on the phone with someone," Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who played a key role negotiating the sanctions bill as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters on Wednesday. The bill was a direct punishment for Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
The law, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress and which Trump signed into law in early August, required the administration to identify which Russian entities would be penalized with new sanctions by October 1. They still have not done so. The State Department has said it is “working to complete the process and provide the public guidance to the relevant people just as soon as possible.”
Republicans have stopped short of claiming that the administration’s delays have been strategic. "We're going to check into it,” Corker said. “I don't have any way of evaluating whether it's purposeful or not purposeful."
But it’s no secret that Trump, who has emphasized wanting a warmer relationship with Russia, did not want to sign the bill into law — and did so grudgingly. At the time, he released a statement claiming he is much better at dealmaking than Congress is and angrily tweeted that Republican lawmakers were ruining his relationship with Russia.
Congressional leaders did their due diligence to make sure the administration was aware the legislative branch was tracking the progress of the bill. Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) wrote the president a letter the day before the deadline to press him to fully enact the sanctions bill.
They expressed concern “that Russia may attempt to work around sanctions by funneling the arms trade through companies not included in the administration’s guidance," the senators wrote, and also emphasized working with European allies to coordinate sanctions.
At the time of the sanction bill’s passing it was largely considered to be a clear act of checks and balances in Washington, taking the sanctions decision out of Trump’s hands. But what appeared to be handcuffing Trump in August seems much looser now.
- When Donald Trump signed the sanctions bill into law, he made sure Congress knew he was unhappy about it.
- Vox’s Zack Beauchamp talked to foreign policy experts on how Trump’s reaction to this sanctions bill affects the US-Russia relationship. The conclusion: Putin is the real winner.
- The sanctions bill, while popular at home, was very unpopular in Europe. Vox’s Zeeshan Aleem explains why.