Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) were the only Senators in either party to support the Trump administration’s position on Russia sanctions on Wednesday.
Although the White House has yet to take an official position on the bill, their displeasure with it is clear. It is said that the administration’s objection to the Senate bill was principally grounded in the fact it prevents the President negotiating any downgrade in sanctions without the approval of Congress. President Trump, who often emphasizes his negotiating skills, was no doubt disappointed about having this issue taken out of his hands. This was further emphasized by the fact that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the Senate, “what I wouldn’t want to do is close the channels off”, and Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee added that the administration believed the “existing executive branch sanctions regime” was sufficient. The State Department also made clear its intention “to look for areas in which both parties can work together”, such as working “together to fight ISIS”.
The administration is now said to be working behind the scenes to water down the bill in the House of Representatives. It has also been suggested that President Trump could even veto the final bill if it is not satisfactory, although it is likely that the level of support for this legislation will result in it having a veto-proof majority.
On the other hand, the objections raised by Paul and Lee were more philosophical. Paul told Bloomberg that the sanctions were “tweaking [Russia’s] nose”, and that the allegations being made against Russia were no more severe than allegations that could be made against China or the United States. Paul added that he was not in favor of new sanctions either against Russia or against Iran.
In a statement given to the Salt Lake Tribune, Lee noted the bill, “promoted progressive policies unrelated to countering Russia at the expense of American taxpayers.” He elaborated during a tele-townhall that he was referring to the funding granted by the bill to Soros-linked NGOs in Russia and other countries seen as “vulnerable to influence” by Russia in Central and Eastern Europe.
“I’m not about to authorize new spending — $250 million or a lesser sum or a greater sum — to do that again without adequate restraints in place to make sure that these international organizations aren’t going to blow this money or aren’t going to spend it in a way that’s harmful to the interests of the American people.”