President Trump plans to sign legislation slapping new punitive sanctions on Russia over election meddling, the White House said Friday, effectively ending hopes for the fresh start with Moscow that he came into office promising to seek.
Trump opposed the legislation as an infringement on executive power but faced the certainty of an embarrassing congressional override if he vetoed it. The announcement came hours after the Russian government announced that it would seize U.S. diplomatic properties and kick out a large number of U.S. diplomats.
The Russian action was in response to the sanctions bill passed by Congress on Thursday. It signaled a loss of patience by Russian President Vladimir Putin with the Trump administration’s inability to change the troubled relationship between the two nuclear-armed powers, which stands at its lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
The legislation handcuffs Trump’s power to lift earlier punitive measures taken by the United States in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine — the top priority for Putin in any remake of the U.S.-Russia relationship.
“President Donald J. Trump read early drafts of the bill and negotiated regarding critical elements of it,” a White House statement said. “He has now reviewed the final version and, based on its responsiveness to his negotiations, approves the bill and intends to sign it.”
It was not clear what influence the White House was claiming Trump had exerted. The bill still includes mandatory congressional review of sanctions.
Trump could have vetoed the law as a signal to Moscow of his continuing interest in rapprochement, while knowing Congress would easily override his action. Signing the bill acknowledges that his goal of better relations with Moscow is on ice.
The Russian expulsion order could affect scores or even hundreds of diplomats and other embassy staff — and officials in Moscow had recently indicated that the measure was imminent.
President Barack Obama expelled Russian diplomats and ordered the seizure of Russian properties in the United States in the closing weeks of his tenure, in response to the conclusion by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election to damage the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and help Trump get elected.