President Donald Trump campaigned on easing relations with Russia, arguing that it’d be in America’s best interest to try warming relations with Vladimir Putin.
Now it’s looking more and more like Congress will stand in his way.
On Monday night, a bipartisan group of Senate leaders announced that they had come to an agreement on a list of sanctions intended to punish Russia for meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. They are expected to add the Russia sanctions as an amendment to a piece of legislation on sanctions for Iran.
If passed, the new Russia provisions would make it more difficult for Trump to relax sanctions against the country. According to a press release, the sanctions bill would also:
— Impose new sanctions on: corrupt Russian actors; those seeking to evade sanctions; those involved in serious human rights abuses; those supplying weapons to the Assad regime; those conducting malicious cyber activity on behalf of the Russian government; those involved in corrupt privatization of state-owned assets; and those doing business with the Russian intelligence and defense sectors.
— Allow broad new sanctions on key sectors of Russia’s economy, including mining, metals, shipping and railways.
— Authorize robust assistance to strengthen democratic institutions and counter disinformation across Central and Eastern European countries that are vulnerable to Russian aggression and interference.
— Require a study on the flow of illicit finance involving Russia and a formal assessment of U.S. economic exposure to Russian state-owned entities.
It’s important to note that these sanctions haven’t passed. This agreement was reached by the top members of both parties on the Senate Foreign Relations and Banking Committees but still need approval from Congress. There’s no word yet on when that might happen. Then they will head to the president’s desk.
"I would be very, very surprised if the president vetoes this bill. Now he's surprised me on a lot of things," Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN. "I find as we get to the finish line on these bills, every administration generally joins us … so I think we'll have the support of the administration. I'm confident about that."
Democrats will welcome the news nonetheless. The opposition party has long feared that Trump would respond to Russian interference in the election by turning around and helping Putin. But for now at least, Senate Republicans appear willing to tie his hands before he can reach out to Russia.