Dealt a striking congressional rebuke, U.S. President Donald Trump grudgingly signed what he called a “seriously flawed” package of sanctions against Russia on Wednesday, bowing for the moment to resistance from both parties to his push for warmer ties with Moscow.
Trump signed the most significant piece of legislation of his presidency with no public event. And he coupled it with a written statement, resentful in tone, that accused Congress of overstepping its constitutional bounds, impeding his ability to negotiate with foreign countries and lacking any ability to strike deals.
“Congress could not even negotiate a health care bill after seven years of talking,” he said scornfully of lawmakers’ recent failure to repeal “Obamacare” as he and other Republicans have promised for years. “As president, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.”
Still, he said, “despite its problems, I am signing this bill for the sake of national unity.”
It was powerful evidence of the roadblock Congress has erected to Trump’s efforts to reset relations with Russia at a time when federal investigators are probing Moscow’s interference in the U.S. presidential election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign.
The legislation is aimed at penalizing Moscow for that interference and for its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria, where the Kremlin has backed President Bashar Assad.
The law also imposes new financial sanctions against Iran and North Korea.
Trump said the law will “punish and deter bad behavior” by the governments of Iran and North Korea, as well as enhance existing sanctions on Moscow. But he made no secret of his distaste for what the bill does to his ability to govern.
“The bill remains seriously flawed — particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate,” he said.
Last week, the House overwhelmingly backed the bill, 419-3, and the Senate rapidly followed, 98-2. Those margins guaranteed that Congress would be able to beat back any veto attempt.
Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the 2016 campaign with the intention of tipping the election in his favour.
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