Despite the White House’s apparent opposition, the US congress has passed a new sanctions package against Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
Donald Trump seems destined to sign the legislation – and in fact, he has little choice.
Congress passed the bill by a nearly unanimous, veto-proof vote of those present: 419-3 in the House and 98-2 in the Senate (Sens. Paul and Sanders dissenting).
The anti-Russia lobby has thereby signaled its determination to push full steam ahead with American Exceptionalist military and economic supremacy, even if such policy is ultimately futile and self-destructive and in fact, pushes Washington’s European vassals closer to Moscow.
The bill represents the victory of the ideologues over the realists – the smaller latter camp led only by Trump and a few of his close advisors such as Steve Bannon and former advisor Mike Flynn.
The legislation also signifies a remarkable and possibly even unique hamstringing of a president’s foreign policy authority by his own party in congress. Under the bill, Trump will be unable to lift any sanctions against Russia, Iran, or North Korea without approval from congress – a virtual certainty not to happen in the current or foreseeable political climate.
Trump could veto the bill, but it would be sacrificing political capital for zero gain, throwing away any trust he has with the republican party in congress, as both parties have pledged to override the president’s veto.
Fox Business reported Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) as saying a veto would be futile:
“I cannot imagine anybody is seriously thinking about vetoing this bill,” said Corker. “It’s not good for any president — and most governors don’t like to veto things that are going to be overridden. It shows a diminishment of their authority. I just don’t think that’s a good way to start off as president.”
Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) was equally emphatic to CNN:
“If he vetoes the bill, we will override his veto,” Cardin said.
Regardless of Donald Trump’s personal views toward the anti-Russian Sanctions (it is unlikely, given his public statements, that he opposes the new sanctions on Iran or North Korea), a veto would be a pointless gesture which would be interpreted as another a political defeat for a president who badly needs congress’ cooperation on his legislative agenda.
Even if Donald Trump supports improved relations with Russia – and I believe he has made it clear enough on multiple occasions that he genuinely does – it is extremely near-sighted to assume he would prioritize that policy change over his domestic program, including healthcare, tax cuts, infrastructure, and border security. That would be true even without the massive establishment backlash towards any hint of rapprochement with Moscow.
Except during wartime, US presidents are not elected on foreign policy. Donald Trump was elected president based primarily on two issues: jobs and immigration. Foreign policy issues play a very unimportant role in American elections – unless and until American troops start dying in large numbers.
Trump’s supporters in middle and working class America could not care less whether sanctions are tightened on Russia, and most are probably naturally inclined to think that they should be. After all, Russia has been portrayed by the media and politicians as a menacing country for decades – singlehandedly re-educating the public is beyond the capabilities of even the president.
Nevertheless, according to several reports, the White House had tried to reduce the scope of the sanctions and its restrictions on the president in talks with congress, but to no avail. Again from Fox Business:
Trump had privately expressed frustration over Congress’ ability to limit or override the power of the president on national security matters, according to Trump administration officials and advisers. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations.
ABC news noted that members of the Trump administration had voiced disapproval of an earlier, similar bill locking in sanctions:
The White House has expressed reservations about that aspect of the bill after the Senate first passed similar legislation last month, but without targeting North Korea. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Congress then that the White House wanted the “flexibility” to deal with Russia, and White House legislative director Marc Short expressed opposition to the “unusual precedent of delegating foreign policy to 535 members of Congress.”
Faced with united opposition by neo-con globalist bought and paid for legislators, signing the bill is a political force majeure for Trump. One assumes it will happen quietly this week and without any of the usual fanfare of Trump’s other public signings.
No doubt the president will hope for increased cooperation from congress on his domestic agenda as compensation, as well as the dropping of “Russia collusion” charges against him and his closest advisors.
But it may be a forlorn hope. The first six months of Trump’s presidency have shown a mass media and political establishment united in implacable opposition to any of the Trump insurgency’s threatened changes to the status quo.