On the evening of 25 July, 2017, the US House of Representitives which is dominated by ‘Trump’s Republican party’, passed a bill which will cause POTUS a great deal of headache irrespective of his final decision in respect of signing or vetoing the legislation.
Passed with a majority of 419-3, the new law would tie the hands of not only Trump but future Presidents. Beyond this, the bill’s content was opposed by America’s most influential companies as well as the European Union. Normally, such an ill-thought out bill which did not account for the views of the business sector, America’s European partners and the US Constitution would be an easy veto for a President trying to build bridges, but due to the atmosphere which the mainstream media as well as Trump’s political opponents have created, Trump now faces a difficult decision that will earn him criticism no matter what he does.
That being said, it is still in Trump’s long term interests to veto the legislation. Here are the key points.
1. The legislation interferes with Constitutionally derived executive power
The current legislation seeks not only to impose sanctions that have been proposed by Congress rather than the Executive, but the bill would force Trump and ostensibly any successor in the White House to go through Congress in order to repeal the sanctions.
As The Duran’s Alexander Mercouris wrote,
“Whilst the US constitution does not define the President’s power to conduct foreign policy precisely (a good discussion of the issue can be found here) I personally have no doubt this law crosses the line, and infringes on the President’s constitutional right to conduct foreign policy in the best interests as he judges it of the United States. Indeed, as I have said, that is the actual intention of the law”.
In this sense, the legislation grants the Legislature powers which are generally a prerogative of the Executive branch. Indeed, Barack Obama’s endless stream of sanctions did not derive from Capitol Hill but from his Oval Office.
One thing that both Trump and Obama have in common is a penchant for using executive orders to accomplish key elements of policy making. In this sense, it would be entirely reasonable to surmise that on this basis, Obama would have vetoed similar legislation on these technical grounds. Trump ought to say this and say it publicly.
Because the bill involves Russian sanctions, of course any veto Trump employs whether a full-veto or a line item veto, will result in the mainstream media and political opponents in Washington criticising Trump as some sort of ‘Russian puppet’, but the msm and his opponents are largely doing this anyway.
By not vetoing the legislation, he will not win new friends but he will make new enemies and important once at that.
2. Losing Europe
Under Barack Obama, the US lost a great deal of global influence in The Middle East, Eurasia, Latin America and South East Asia. The one place where America still has friends after the Obama years is in Europe. Unlike Obama who always remained popular in major EU states and in Brussels itself, for mainly stylistic reasons, Trump has often had a shaky relationship with key European leaders like Angela Merkel.
But as his recent trip to Poland demonstrated, the Poles who are among the most Russophobic nation in the world, welcomed Trump as one of their own. Clearly, a country that is irrational enough to believe Russia might invade Europe is still sensible enough to realise that Donald Trump isn’t a secret Russian in any case.
Likewise, even though Merkel and Trump didn’t start off on the best foot, it seems that French President Emmanuel Macron has become keen to cultivate a good relationship with Trump. Trump attended Bastille Day celebrations in Paris at Macron’s invitation during which both men agreed that trying to remove the legitimate government of Syria should not be a political or military goal of France or the US and by extrapolation, all of NATO.
Just about every EU nation, including France opposes the new sanctions. Europe hasn’t suddenly become ‘pro-Russia’ but Europe does business with Russia in spite of previous sanctions, this is particularly true in the energy sector.
The current crop of sanctions effectively disallow European companies from doing the business they have done for years with Russian conglomerates. Europe has voiced its opposition to the US moves in the strongest possible manner, ranging from written condemnation deriving from individual nation states, to a strongly worded pledge to retaliate against the US from the European Union should the sanctions become US law.
Furthermore, many companies in Europe and indeed some European states, do not harbour the same paranoia about Iran that the US does. The sanctions which would target Russia as well as Iran and North Korea may prove harmful to EU countries that do not share US zeal when it comes to Iran or North Korea.
The French energy giant Total just signed a $4.9 billion deal with Iran for gas cultivation in the Persian Gulf. Should the anti-Iran sanctions which are in the bill interfere with this, many in France would be deeply angry.
If the US and Europe have this kind of unnecessary schism, America’s close allies might be reduced to Japan, an increasingly anti-militant South Korea, an increasingly dysfunctional Saudi Arabia and an increasingly aggressive Israel. Can America really afford to lose Europe over a domestic crusade against anything Russian? The clear answer is no.
3. Bad for US business
America’s leading companies have come out strongly condemning the new legislation for many of the same reasons European companies have. These companies include, BP, ExxonMobil, General Electric, Boeing and Citigroup, MasterCard, Visa, Ford, Dow Chemical, Procter & Gamble, International Paper, Caterpillar, and Cummins.
Donald Trump campaigned saying he would be the friend of both the American worker and American businesses. With America’s biggest companies who are also major employers coming out against the sanctions, many people from the factory floor to the boardroom will feel deeply betrayed by a man whose own career was in the private sector for most of his life. In this sense Trump owes more to the wider business community than to the Republican party with whom he hasn’t been long associated with.
If the Republican party which is ostensibly pro-business cannot listen to the interests of major US companies, Donald Trump ought to do so.
4. The decision for Trump
If Donald Trump vetoes the bill, of course he will be accused of being ‘pro-Russia’, though he will hardly be accused of being pro-Iran or pro-North Korea, even though the legislation targets all three countries.
The fact is that the Trump-Russia narrative is not going to be dropped by the Democrats, neo-cons or MSM in any case. There is little else Trump can do to fight the ‘Russia myth’ apart from surrounding himself with an apt legal team to pick apart the ugly rumours as well as to continue to fight the MSM and his opponents on Twitter in a manner that exposes their pomposity to the general public.
The passage of this kind of bill so early into Trump’s Presidency is proof positive that Trump does not have many allies in the Republican party. The fact that on the same day, a Senate with a slim Republican majority needed to reply on the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence, on top of the vote of an ailing John McCain (who on foreign policy matters is no friend of Trump in any case) in order to begin the debate to repeal and replace Obamacare, is further proof that Donald Trump is in many respects an independent President who is merely associated with the Republican party out of what was thought to be a relationship of convenience. This is hardly the case any more, the Republicans are publicly ungrateful for their Congressional victories achieved largely because of their association with a popular and charismatic Presidential candidate and Donald Trump is still Donald Trump, the outsider who doesn’t seem to want to ‘join the club’, certainly not in terms of style and in many ways, also in terms of substance.
The Republican party is no more Trump’s than the Democratic party is in many ways. He ought to realise this and use his veto not to please Russia but to please his own supporters. The fact that Russia has condemned the move, at a time when the US and Russia are at long last cooperating in south western Syria. ought to simply add one more layer of motivation for Trump to do the only thing that makes sense in terms of the wider world beyond the D.C. bubble: Trump should veto the bill with the same tenacity with which he used to say “you’re fired” on The Apprentice.