President Trump has signed the bill enhancing and expanding existing sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia. No one cared very much about the Iran and North Korea sanctions but there was a lot of talk that Trump wouldn’t sign the bill because he is, you know, a Russian tool and totally in thrall to Vladimir Putin. While the efficacy of the Russia sanctions, in particular, remains to be seen, one thing we know for certain is that he was not happy about having to sign the bill.
First, there is a signing statement. It lays out a series of objections:
In its haste to pass this legislation, the Congress included a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions. For instance, although I share the policy views of sections 253 and 257, those provisions purport to displace the President’s exclusive constitutional authority to recognize foreign governments, including their territorial bounds, in conflict with the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Zivotofsky v. Kerry.
Additionally, section 216 seeks to grant the Congress the ability to change the law outside the constitutionally required process. The bill prescribes a review period that precludes the President from taking certain actions. Certain provisions in section 216, however, conflict with the Supreme Court’s decision in INS v. Chadha, because they purport to allow the Congress to extend the review period through procedures that do not satisfy the requirements for changing the law under Article I, section 7 of the Constitution. I nevertheless expect to honor the bill’s extended waiting periods to ensure that the Congress will have a full opportunity to avail itself of the bill’s review procedures.
Further, certain provisions, such as sections 254 and 257, purport to direct my subordinates in the executive branch to undertake certain diplomatic initiatives, in contravention of the President’s exclusive constitutional authority to determine the time, scope, and objectives of international negotiations. And other provisions, such as sections 104, 107, 222, 224, 227, 228, and 234, would require me to deny certain individuals entry into the United States, without an exception for the President’s responsibility to receive ambassadors under Article II, section 3 of the Constitution. My Administration will give careful and respectful consideration to the preferences expressed by the Congress in these various provisions and will implement them in a manner consistent with the President’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations.
Finally, my Administration particularly expects the Congress to refrain from using this flawed bill to hinder our important work with European allies to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, and from using it to hinder our efforts to address any unintended consequences it may have for American businesses, our friends, or our allies.
Then there is the I’m-really-pissed-off statement:
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.
And then he gets wound up:
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.
And on to the inevitable Trumpian finish:
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.
Personally, I don’t look at the Russia sanctions portion of the bill as being much different than Trump’s spleen-venting. Europe is probably going to relax some of the sanctions they coordinated with the Obama administration because of this bill. An article in the Trump-unfriendly National Interest calls the sanctions bill a victory for Putin:
The U.S. sanctions bill, designed to hurt Russia, may have unintended consequences for the United States. As currently written, it will not only continue to penalize Russia but will also penalize American and European businesses because of its restrictions on energy projects that involve Russian companies. Specifically, the bill seeks to prevent the construction of the Nord Stream Two gas pipeline that would export Russian gas under the Baltic Sea to Europe. Germany supports the pipeline as the most cost-effective way to meet future gas demand, as do most—but certainly not all—of its EU partners. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, has warned that the sanction bill “could have unintended unilateral effects that impact the EU’s energy security interests.” He added that “if our concerns are not taken into account sufficiently, we stand ready to act appropriately within a matter of days.” Moreover, German officials—echoed by Russians—have suggested that real agenda behind the sanctions is to boost U.S. natural gas exports to Europe. Some EU officials have warned that the EU may rethink its own sanctions regime—carefully designed with the Obama administration—if the United States moves forward with the bill. This, of course, would be good news for the Kremlin.
Having said that, it is sad to see a 70-year-old man who is president engage in such petulant and childishness as this. Men of his generation–and even of mine–were taught that in circumstances like this the rule is “don’t complain and don’t explain.” I guess he missed class on that day.