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Trump Signs Russia Sanctions Bill


President Trump signed a bill today that he says is significantly flawed. It imposes new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea and also constrains the president's power. It's called the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. Trump signed it because Congress forced his hand. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: There was no Oval Office celebration, no ceremony as President Trump signed arguably the most significant piece of legislation in his young presidency. And that's because the bill, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, contains a limit on the president's power. In short, if the president wants to lift or modify sanctions on Russia, he has to run it by Congress first. And Congress could say no. Vice President Mike Pence was asked about it in an interview with Fox News.


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: President Trump believes, whatever frustration that we feel for Congress limiting his authority to conduct foreign affairs, that on balance, this legislation reaffirms the president's strong commitment to ongoing sanctions with Russia to make it clear that their destabilizing behaviors are not acceptable to the United States.

KEITH: With the bill, Congress put a check on President Trump, who has shown a strong desire to improve relations with Russia. And while Trump signed the bill, he did so with reservations, saying in a press release that the bill is, quote, "seriously flawed," particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch's authority to negotiate.

Trump added that he built a truly great company worth billions of dollars and, quote, "as president, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress." Trump also issued a more formal signing statement, indicating specific provisions to which he objects. Phillip Cooper is a professor of public administration at Portland State University.

PHILLIP COOPER: He's drawing lines, and he's making some pretty significant statements about the scope of his executive power in foreign affairs and essentially putting Congress on notice that he may very well instruct the State Department to take the action he indicates is important and not necessarily what Congress may have in mind here.

KEITH: In other words, the president's signing statement says there are some parts of the law he thinks he shouldn't have to follow. But he isn't necessarily saying he won't comply. A congressional aide tells NPR it might have a lot of bluster, but there is nothing in this signing statement that would appear to inhibit the execution and implementation of the legislation.

But just for good measure, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle put out their own statements pushing back on the president. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said, quote, "it is critical that the president comply with the letter and spirit of this legislation and fully implement all of its provisions. Going forward, I hope the president will be as vocal about Russia's aggressive behavior as he was about his concerns with this legislation."

This sort of back and forth between the legislative branch and executive branch has precedent. And Cooper says this is Trump's second significant signing statement. The first was on a government funding bill signed in May.

COOPER: It's clear that this president intends to make use of this particular device. It was certainly popular in the George W. Bush administration, was used by President Obama but not as much. And it's quite clear that Mr. Trump's going to use it.

KEITH: And he says because this Congress has now shown a willingness to pass legislation that the president doesn't like, there could be more signing statements in the future. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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