Analysis: Trump gets a major bill, and it’s Russia sanctions

The most consequential piece of legislation that the Republican-led Congress has delivered to President Donald Trump after seven months is a new package of financial penalties against Russia that he didn’t want to sign into law.

But he’s going to. He would have faced a political firestorm if he rejected the legislation.

The House overwhelmingly backed the bill, 419-3, and the Senate rapidly following their lead on a 98-2 vote. Those massive margins guaranteed that Congress would be able to beat back any possible attempt by Trump to reject the measure. The legislation, which also punishes Iran and North Korea, takes aim at Moscow for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and for its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria.

Provisions backed by Republican and Democrats would handcuff Trump on the Russia sanctions due to worries among lawmakers that he may ease the financial hits without first securing concessions from Russian President Vladimir Putin. Republicans refused to budge even after the White House complained that the “congressional review” infringed on Trump’s executive authority.

But as Trump faced the embarrassing possibility of being overruled by his own party, the White House announced late Friday that he “approves the bill and intends to sign it.” The statement from press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also said Trump “read early drafts of the bill and negotiated regarding critical elements of it.” She didn’t specify the “critical elements,” and lawmakers have said the White House was largely absent as they crafted the legislation.

In a statement Saturday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the near unanimous votes “represent the strong will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States.” He said he hoped for cooperation with Russia that would make the sanctions unnecessary.

That a bill to hit back at Russia would be the singular accomplishment so far underscores how the angrily contested 2016 election continues to reverberate on Capitol Hill. But it’s also a product of Trump’s own making — and one he failed or refused to see developing in Congress.

Instead of looking for way to retaliate against Moscow, Trump openly challenged the findings of his own intelligence agencies, which concluded Russia had interfered with the intention of tipping the election in his behalf. And he pursued a warmer relationship with Putin, convinced that Washington and the Kremlin could work together on…

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