Senate Votes to Make it Harder for Trump to Lift Russia Sanctions
On Thursday, the Senate overwhelmingly backed a bill that would impose additional sanctions on Iran and Russia. The Senate’s move sent a clear signal to the White House that any conciliatory actions toward the Kremlin would have to go through Congress.
The bill, which passed by a vote of 98-2, would ensure that President Donald Trump could not unilaterally lift sanctions against Russia; any attempt to do so would have to be approved by Congress. The legislation is expected to head to the House in the coming weeks. The two Senators that voted “no” were Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rand Paul (R-KY).
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released a statement after the vote. He said:
With passage of this legislation, the Senate reasserts congressional authority–while providing the Trump administration appropriate national security flexibility–and sends a clear signal to both Iran and Russia that our country will stand firm in the face of destabilizing behavior and that Congress will play a leading role in protecting our national interests.
The expanded sanctions on Iran were in response to its ballistic missile development, and its support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Tehran also aids Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.
An amendment was added to the popular Iran sanctions bill to expand existing sanctions to Russia–citing its election meddling, its seizure of Crimea in 2014, and its support of separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russia is also the primary backer of Assad.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that the Russian sanctions stand. Yet in a hearing this week, he said the administration would like “flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation.” Tillerson urged Congress to allow him room to maneuver.
Congressional aides told Reuters that the House will likely pass the bill, and support in both chambers will be strong enough to override a veto if the president takes that route.
In a statement following Thursday’s vote, Sanders said he supports additional sanctions against Russia, but believes tightening sanctions against Iran “could endanger the very important nuclear agreement that was signed between the United States, its partners, and Iran in 2015.” Sanders added that Iran’s “policies and activities” are deeply concerning.