Trump signed the bill without cameras, sending out a statement later in the morning saying that despite his belief that parts of the measure were unconstitutional, he was signing it into law for the “sake of national unity.”
He had little choice about signing the bill after nearly unanimous votes in both houses of Congress approved it, all but guaranteeing any veto would be overridden.
The bill prevents American companies from investing in many energy projects that are funded by Russian government interests.
It also prevents Trump from unilaterally lifting the sanctions, giving Congress an extended period of time to review any presidential action that tries to upend or significantly change existing sanctions.
The law marks an unusual move by Congress to tie the president’s hands on foreign policy.
Trump did not want to surrender that authority, and in his statement accompanying the bill signing, he laid the groundwork for potentially challenging the law down the road.
Trump called some parts of the bill “clearly unconstitutional,” although he said he would “expect to honor” its key provisions.
“While I favor tough measures to punish and deter aggressive and destabilizing behavior by Iran, North Korea, and Russia, this legislation is significantly flawed,” he wrote.
Some parts of the bill “displace the President’s exclusive constitutional authority to recognize foreign governments” while others exceed Congress’ authority by imposing time limits on the executive branch, the signing statement said.
Trump wrote that he would nonetheless honor the law’s requirement that he submit to a congressional review before terminating any sanctions, while still reserving the right to enforce the law “in a manner consistent with the President’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations.”
In a separate press release, in which he made the remark about national unity, Trump lashed out at Congress in more colloquial terms than in the formal signing statement.
He said the new law would make it harder for the U.S. to “strike good deals for the American people, and will drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together.”
He also drew a sharp distinction among the three countries sanctioned by the law.
On Russia, he said that “we hope there will be cooperation between our two countries on major global issues so that these sanctions will no longer be necessary.”
By contrast, referring to Iran and North Korea, he spoke of a “clear message” that “the American people will not tolerate their dangerous and destabilizing behavior.”
He also took a characteristic shot at Congress, noting lawmakers’ failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act “after seven years of talking” and contrasting his history of having “built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars” with Congress.
“As president, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress,” he wrote.
The vote in Congress, 98-2 in the Senate and 419-3 in the House, were strong signs that lawmakers do not trust Trump to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Trump has repeatedly praised, amid the widening federal investigation into possible coordination last year between his presidential campaign and Moscow.
Passage of the sanctions bill already has sparked a harsh reaction in Moscow.
Putin announced just days ago that the United States would need to shed 755 personnel, including U.S. diplomats, from its embassy and consulates in Russia. President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats, said to be spies, from the United States last December.
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