Known as the Crapo Amendment, the bill is intended to “impose sanctions with respect to the Russian Federation and to combat terrorism and illicit financing,” according to the bill’s statement of purpose. The bill also gives Congress the authority to review any attempt to repeal the sanctions, preventing the White House from doing so unilaterally.
“We moved to make the Congress, not the President, the final arbiter of sanctions relief when necessary,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “Any idea of the President that he can lift sanctions on his own for whatever reason are dashed by this legislation.”
The new sanctions are attached to another sanctions bill intended for Iran, the “Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017.”
The two lonely dissenting votes came from Sens. Rand Paul (R–KY) and Mike Lee (R–UT), the former of whom was at the forefront of another recent effort in the Senate to reign in arms sales to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
While that attempt met failure in a narrow 47-53 Senate vote, on Tuesday Sen. Paul explained to CNN that arming the Saudis to the teeth only provokes Iran into the kind of “destabilizing activities” the sanctions bill seeks to address.
“Iran develops [missiles] in response to Saudi Arabia getting more weapons. It’s an arms race over there, and we’re fueling it,” Paul said.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told a Senate committee this week that he was worried Congress was taking an action that would interfere in the Trump administration’s efforts to shore up ties with our nuclear-armed rival.
“What I wouldn’t want to do is close the channels off,” Tillerson told the committee.
In 2016, at the tail end of the prior administration, then-President Obama brought about sanctions on several Russian individuals and entities over alleged interference in the 2016 election, expelling 35 Russian diplomats from the country in the process.
“Russia’s cyberactivities were intended to influence the election, erode faith in U.S. democratic institutions, sow doubt about the integrity of our electoral process, and undermine confidence in the institutions of the US government,” the White House said in a statement immediately after the incident. “These actions are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House spokeswoman, said the Trump administration is “committed to existing sanctions against Russia” on Thursday, but added it is “still reviewing the new Russia sanctions amendment.”
“We will keep them in place until Moscow fully honors its commitment to resolve the crisis in Ukraine,” Sanders said. “We believe the existing executive branch sanctions regime is the best tool for compelling Russia to fulfill its commitments.”
While the Senate overwhelmingly approved of the measure, before it reaches Trump’s desk it must pass through the House. Sen. Bob Corker (R–TN), however, is convinced that the president will sign the bill if makes it through the House, telling reporters on Wednesday “[…] look, this is going to become law.”
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