Senate overwhelmingly approves new Russia, Iran sanctions

The Senate voted nearly unanimously on Thursday to impose new sanctions on Russia and Iran.  The vote was 98-2.  Only Senators Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders voted against the legislation.

In addition to new sanctions, the bill would prevent President Trump from lifting  sanctions on Russia without congressional approval. 

Reuters:

The measure is intended to punish Russia for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and support for Syria's government in the six-year-long civil war.

If passed in the House of Representatives and signed into law by Trump, it would put into law sanctions previously established via former President Barack Obama's executive orders, including some on Russian energy projects. The legislation also allows new sanctions on Russian mining, metals, shipping and railways and targets Russians guilty of conducting cyber attacks or supplying weapons to Syria's government.

"The legislation sends a very, very strong signal to Russia, the nefarious activities they've been involved in," Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said as lawmakers debated the measure.

If the measure became law, it could complicate relations with some countries in Europe. Germany and Austria said the new punitive measures could expose European companies involved in projects in Russia to fines.

The legislation sets up a review process that would require Trump to get Congress' approval before taking any action to ease, suspend or lift any sanctions on Russia.

The restrictions on President Trump to lift sanctions on Russia grew out of a directive from the president his first week in office seeking a review of all sanctions imposed by the U.S. government.  Two Obama-era State Department officials were alarmed at the review and told Senators Ben Cardin and Lindsey Graham that it appeared that the president wanted to lift sanctions on Russia. 

Whether Trump wanted to actually lift Russian sanctions is a matter of dispute.  But the move played directly into the collusion narrative – a quid pro quo for Russian help in the campaign in exchange for a lifting of sanctions.  This is what helped bring down former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who supposedly talked about lifting sanctions with the Russian ambassador and failed to inform the vice president.  The Senate bought into the narrative, and Graham introduced legislation that would  force the president to seek congressional approval for lifting or easing any Russian sanctions. 

The measure now goes to the House, where success is uncertain:

To become law, the legislation must pass the House of Representatives and be signed by Trump. House aides said they expected the chamber would begin to debate the measure in coming weeks.

However, they could not predict if it would come up for a final vote before lawmakers leave Washington at the end of July for their summer recess.

Senior aides told Reuters they expected some sanctions package would eventually pass, but they expected the measure would be changed in the House. The Trump administration has pushed back against the bill, and his fellow Republicans hold a commanding 238- to 193-seat majority in the chamber.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson questioned the legislation on Wednesday, urging Congress to ensure that any sanctions package "allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation."

Previously, U.S. energy sanctions had only targeted Russia's future high-tech energy projects, such as drilling for oil in the Arctic, fracking and offshore drilling. They blocked U.S. companies such as Exxon Mobil, where Tillerson was chairman, from investing in such projects.

The new bill would slap sanctions on companies in other countries looking to invest in those projects in the absence of U.S. companies, a practice known as backfilling.

It's unknown whether new sanctions will negatively impact our deteriorating relations with Russia, although it's a safe bet they won't help.  It's not as though the sanctions are a surprise to President Putin, who has been following the anti-Trump hysteria in Washington fairly closely.  Putin seems content to sit back and watch as America tears itself apart with partisan witch hunts and hatred of the president. 

The Senate voted nearly unanimously on Thursday to impose new sanctions on Russia and Iran.  The vote was 98-2.  Only Senators Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders voted against the legislation.

In addition to new sanctions, the bill would prevent President Trump from lifting  sanctions on Russia without congressional approval. 

Reuters:

The measure is intended to punish Russia for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and support for Syria's government in the six-year-long civil war.

If passed in the House of Representatives and signed into law by Trump, it would put into law sanctions previously established via former President Barack Obama's executive orders, including some on Russian energy projects. The legislation also allows new sanctions on Russian mining, metals, shipping and railways and targets Russians guilty of conducting cyber attacks or supplying weapons to Syria's government.

"The legislation sends a very, very strong signal to Russia, the nefarious activities they've been involved in," Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said as lawmakers debated the measure.

If the measure became law, it could complicate relations with some countries in Europe. Germany and Austria said the new punitive measures could expose European companies involved in projects in Russia to fines.

The legislation sets up a review process that would require Trump to get Congress' approval before taking any action to ease, suspend or lift any sanctions on Russia.

The restrictions on President Trump to lift sanctions on Russia grew out of a directive from the president his first week in office seeking a review of all sanctions imposed by the U.S. government.  Two Obama-era State Department officials were alarmed at the review and told Senators Ben Cardin and Lindsey Graham that it appeared that the president wanted to lift sanctions on Russia. 

Whether Trump wanted to actually lift Russian sanctions is a matter of dispute.  But the move played directly into the collusion narrative – a quid pro quo for Russian help in the campaign in exchange for a lifting of sanctions.  This is what helped bring down former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who supposedly talked about lifting sanctions with the Russian ambassador and failed to inform the vice president.  The Senate bought into the narrative, and Graham introduced legislation that would  force the president to seek congressional approval for lifting or easing any Russian sanctions. 

The measure now goes to the House, where success is uncertain:

To become law, the legislation must pass the House of Representatives and be signed by Trump. House aides said they expected the chamber would begin to debate the measure in coming weeks.

However, they could not predict if it would come up for a final vote before lawmakers leave Washington at the end of July for their summer recess.

Senior aides told Reuters they expected some sanctions package would eventually pass, but they expected the measure would be changed in the House. The Trump administration has pushed back against the bill, and his fellow Republicans hold a commanding 238- to 193-seat majority in the chamber.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson questioned the legislation on Wednesday, urging Congress to ensure that any sanctions package "allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation."

Previously, U.S. energy sanctions had only targeted Russia's future high-tech energy projects, such as drilling for oil in the Arctic, fracking and offshore drilling. They blocked U.S. companies such as Exxon Mobil, where Tillerson was chairman, from investing in such projects.

The new bill would slap sanctions on companies in other countries looking to invest in those projects in the absence of U.S. companies, a practice known as backfilling.

It's unknown whether new sanctions will negatively impact our deteriorating relations with Russia, although it's a safe bet they won't help.  It's not as though the sanctions are a surprise to President Putin, who has been following the anti-Trump hysteria in Washington fairly closely.  Putin seems content to sit back and watch as America tears itself apart with partisan witch hunts and hatred of the president. 

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