Donald Trump signed landmark legislation Wednesday that slaps fresh sanctions on Russia for meddling in the 2016 election while also forcing the president to seek congressional approval if he wants to have them removed later on.
The latter point wasn’t lost on Trump, who issued a grumpy statement complaining that the bill presented by Congress contains “clearly unconstitutional provisions” encroaching on his authority to conduct foreign policy.
Calling the bill “significantly flawed,” Trump said that “despite its problems, I am signing this bill for the sake of national unity.”
Both the House and the Senate voted in overwhelming majorities for the legislation, which also imposes sanctions on Iran and North Korea. Russian President Vladimir Putin reacted to the bill even before it reached Trump’s desk, ordering the U.S. to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia by 755, in a move reminiscent of the Cold War.
Trump pointed to provisions in the bill he said clash with the president’s constitutional powers — including section 257, which says the United States will “never recognize the annexation of Crimea by the government of the Russian Federation” in 2014.
Trump said his administration would give those “preferences” of Congress “respectful consideration,” but that his administration “will implement them in a manner consistent with the president’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations.”
Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea in the spring of 2014, ushering in multiple rounds of tit-for-tat economic sanctions between Western governments and Moscow.
But despite being clearly irked by the bill’s passage, Trump struck a boastful note of optimism. “I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As president, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress [can].”
But Alexander Gabuev, a political analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center, said the Kremlin has grown disillusioned with the idea that it might be able to improve relations with the United States under President Trump.
“The theory in Moscow is that these sanctions are part of a civil war in U.S. politics,” Gabuev said by phone from Moscow. “But Russia now sees that the sanctions are here to stay.”