White House Signals Acceptance of New Bill Imposing Sanctions on Russia

President Trump at Joint Base Andrews on Saturday.
Hilary Swift for The New York Times

The White House indicated on Sunday that President Trump would accept new legislation imposing sanctions on Russia and curtailing his authority to lift them on his own, a striking turnaround after a broad revolt in Congress by lawmakers of both parties who distrusted his friendly approach to Moscow and sought to tie his hands.

Congressional leaders said Saturday that they had reached agreement on legislation intended to punish Russia for its interference in last year’s presidential election and its aggression toward its neighbors, despite objections raised by the administration that it would inappropriately infringe on the president’s ability to direct foreign policy. The new White House press secretary said on Sunday that adjustments made to the bill were enough to satisfy the president’s concerns.

“The administration is supportive of being tough on Russia, particularly in putting these sanctions in place,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was promoted to press secretary on Friday, said on “This Week” on ABC News. “The original piece of legislation was poorly written, but we were able to work with the House and Senate, and the administration is happy with the ability to do that and make those changes that were necessary and we support where the legislation is now.”

Still, there seemed to be confusion among the president’s advisers. Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, said on another show that the president had not made up his mind whether to sign the measure. “You’ve got to ask President Trump that,” he said on “State of the Union” on CNN. “It’s my second or third day on the job. My guess is he’s going to make that decision shortly.” He added, “He hasn’t made the decision yet to sign that bill one way or the other.”

That may reflect nothing more than Mr. Scaramucci’s still getting up to speed in his new role, as he suggested. Privately, White House officials said they saw no politically viable alternative to the president signing the bill and so Ms. Sanders seized on the changes made to lay the predicate.

In reality, while the changes made the measure somewhat more palatable to the White House, they mainly provided a face-saving way to back down from a confrontation it was sure to lose if the sanctions bill reached the floor of the House. The Senate passed the original version of the bill, 97 to 2, and Republicans and Democrats expected a similarly overwhelming, veto-proof majority in the House if it came to a vote.

Not only would a veto by Mr. Trump have presumably been overridden by Congress, but White House advisers conceded it would have been politically disastrous. While other presidents might also have resisted legislation taking away their power to have the final say on sanctions, for Mr. Trump such a stance would be untenable given investigations into whether his team colluded with Russia during the election.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Peter Baker