President Donald Trump campaigned on easing tensions with Russia, arguing that it would be in America’s best interest to try warming relations with Vladimir Putin.
But Congress is looking more and more likely to stand in his way. On Wednesday, the Senate overwhelmingly approved a series of sanctions to punish Russia for meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. The 97-2 vote approved an amendment to add the Russia sanctions to a broader bill originally drafted to pass sanctions against Iran.
That Iran sanctions bill, which now includes the Russia sanctions, is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate next week, according to a spokesperson for Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD). From there, the bill still has to be approved by the House and then by President Trump to be signed into law.
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, but Senate Democrats are optimistic Trump won’t veto them — in part because the 97-2 vote suggests that the Senate could override his veto.
"I would be very, very surprised if the president vetoes this bill. Now, he's surprised me on a lot of things," Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate 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.