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President Trump signed a bill imposing sanctions on Russia, after the legislation overwhelmingly passed the House and Senate.

The stiff financial sanctions were championed by lawmakers in both parties, and Trump’s signature could escalate tensions with Moscow — which already has ordered a reduction in the number of U.S. diplomats in Russia.

The bill itself targets Iran and North Korea as well as Russia.

Fox News reports that a cornerstone of the legislation was a provision barring Trump from easing or waiving the additional penalties on Russia unless Congress agrees. The provisions were included to assuage concerns among lawmakers that the president’s push for better relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin might lead him to relax the penalties without first securing concessions from the Kremlin.

Trump made clear his concerns about such provisions in a written statement released by the White House on Wednesday. He said while he favors “tough measures to punish and deter aggressive and destabilizing behavior” in all three countries, “this legislation is significantly flawed.”

“In its haste to pass this legislation, the Congress included a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions,” he said, outlining numerous alleged constitutional conflicts.

Vice President Pence, in an interview with Fox News during a visit to Montenegro where he is meeting with allies, said despite the president’s concerns the legislation highlights his commitment to holding these nations accountable.

“President Trump believes whatever frustration that we feel for Congress limiting his authority … that, on balance, this legislation reaffirms the president’s strong commitment to ongoing sanctions with Russia, to make it clear their destabilizing behaviors are not acceptable to the United States, and that ongoing provocations from North Korea and Iran will no longer be acceptable,” he said.

The Senate passed the bill, 98-2, two days after the House pushed the measure through by an overwhelming margin, 419-3. Both were veto proof numbers, upping pressure on Trump to sign the legislation.

The legislation is aimed at punishing Moscow for meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria, where the Kremlin has backed President Bashar Assad.

Signing a bill that penalizes Russia’s election interference would mark a significant shift for Trump. He’s repeatedly cast doubt on the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia sought to tip the election in his favor. And he’s blasted as a “witch hunt” investigations into the extent of Russia’s interference and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow.

The 184-page bill seeks to hit Putin and the oligarchs close to him by targeting Russian corruption, human rights abusers, and crucial sectors of the Russian economy, including weapons sales and energy exports.

In recent days, though, Trump has suggested he’s tougher on Russia than many believe.

The bill underwent revisions to address concerns voiced by American oil and natural gas companies that sanctions specific to Russia’s energy sector could backfire on them to Moscow’s benefit. The bill raised the threshold for when U.S. firms would be prohibited from being part of energy projects that also included Russian businesses.

Lawmakers said they also made adjustments so the sanctions on Russia’s energy sector didn’t undercut the ability of U.S. allies in Europe to get access to oil and gas resources outside of Russia.

Here is the statement from the White House:

Statement by President Donald J. Trump on Signing the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act”

Today, I signed into law the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,” which enacts new sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia.  I favor tough measures to punish and deter bad behavior by the rogue regimes in Tehran and Pyongyang.  I also support making clear that America will not tolerate interference in our democratic process, and that we will side with our allies and friends against Russian subversion and destabilization.

That is why, since taking office, I have enacted tough new sanctions on Iran and North Korea, and shored up existing sanctions on Russia.

Since this bill was first introduced, I have expressed my concerns to Congress about the many ways it improperly encroaches on Executive power, disadvantages American companies, and hurts the interests of our European allies.

My Administration has attempted to work with Congress to make this bill better.  We have made progress and improved the language to give the Treasury Department greater flexibility in granting routine licenses to American businesses, people, and companies.  The improved language also reflects feedback from our European allies – who have been steadfast partners on Russia sanctions – regarding the energy sanctions provided for in the legislation.  The new language also ensures our agencies can delay sanctions on the intelligence and defense sectors, because those sanctions could negatively affect American companies and those of our allies.

Still, the bill remains seriously flawed – particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate.  Congress could not even negotiate a healthcare bill after seven years of talking.  By limiting the Executive’s flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people, and will drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together.  The Framers of our Constitution put foreign affairs in the hands of the President.  This bill will prove the wisdom of that choice.

Yet despite its problems, I am signing this bill for the sake of national unity.  It represents the will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States.  We hope there will be cooperation between our two countries on major global issues so that these sanctions will no longer be necessary.

Further, the bill sends a clear message to Iran and North Korea that the American people will not tolerate their dangerous and destabilizing behavior.  America will continue to work closely with our friends and allies to check those countries’ malignant activities.

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.

God Bless.


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