As night fell on the Monday deadline for the White House to implement new sanctions against Russia that were passed by Congress last July, President Trump broke with the overwhelming majority in the legislature and chose not to impose the law he signed in August. Unsurprisingly, multiple members of Congress are voicing their displeasure and consternation with the decision.
According to The Washington Post, the administration sees the legislation itself as a “deterrent” to those who might choose to do business with the defense and intelligence sectors of the Kremlin. A State Department spokesperson told Politico that potential targets of penalties “have been put on notice, both publicly and privately” regarding the consequences of dealing with “Russian entities.” The administration also cited the extended time frames associated with defense deals as another reason to wait.
An anonymous State Department official revealed to WaPo that future sanctions would fall on foreign governments and entities that buy from Russia and not Russia itself. So, even if sanctions are introduced in the future, the president doesn’t want to impact Vladimir Putin directly, which surely proves itself as a valuable deterrent.
Trump’s rationale is falling on deaf ears on the Congressional floor, however, as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act was passed overwhelmingly by both houses of Congress last July. The bill passed by a margin of 517-5 in both houses. It still serves as one of the least partisan pieces of legislation during a presidency marred by partisan volatility.
Now that the White House’s position is known, members of Congress are speaking up and speaking out against the decision.
Sen. Claire McCaskill took to Twitter to vent her frustration with the president’s choice to ignore the legislature and let Russia off the hook:
Opinions are similar from the other side of the aisle, Republican Sen. Susan Collins appeared on CNN’s New Day and called the move “perplexing,” adding, “The one thing we know for sure already is the Russians did attempt to meddle in our election. And not only should there be a price to pay in terms of sanctions, but also we need to put safeguards in place right now for the elections for this year.”
Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee, unleashed a tirade against the decision as well. Speaking to Reuters, he said, “The State Department claims that the mere threat of sanctions will deter Russia’s aggressive behavior. How do you deter an attack that happened two years ago, and another that’s already underway? It just doesn’t make sense.”
Engel succintly delivered the feelings that the majority of lawmakers are working through today as the president yet again displayed his desire to undermine the last throes of bipartisanship and democracy: “I’m fed up waiting for this Administration to protect our country and our elections … they chose to let Russia off the hook yet again.”