Russian Sanctions Bill Headed to President Trump’s Desk

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill early Thursday evening to strengthen sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea just two days after their counterparts in the House did the same with a veto-proof majority.

The bill will now go to President Donald Trump, setting up his first veto dilemma on the first major piece of legislation from a GOP-controlled Congress.

Regardless of whether the president wants to sign the bill or not, it garnered enough votes in both chambers to override a veto.

The bill passed 98-2 in the Senate and 419-3 in the House.

Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.,  voted no, while Republican Reps. Thomas Massie, of Kentucky, Justin Amash, of Michigan and John Duncan Jr., of Tennessee, voted against the measure in the House.

The passage of the legislation angered Moscow, which has already threatened to retaliate.

The bill codifies into law sanctions for the country’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its aggression in Ukraine.

However, it will also block the president from lifting sanctions unilaterally, an aspect of the bill the White House has opposed.

During his first week back in Washington after being diagnosed with brain cancer Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said punishing Russia for its aggression was long overdue.

“Just the last three years under Vladimir Putin Russia has invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea, threatened NATO allies and intervened militarily in Syria leaving a trail of death and destruction and broken promises in its wake,” McCain said before the vote.

“And of course last year Russia attacked the foundation of American democracy with a cyber and information campaign to interfere in America’s 2016 election,” he added.

“My friends, the United States of America needs to send a strong message to Vladimir Putin and any other aggressor that we will not tolerate attacks on our democracy,” McCain continued. “That’s what this bill is all about. Let’s take our own side on this fight – not as Republicans, not as Democrats – but as Americans.”

McCain and his Republican colleague, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have been saying for months that Russia should be punished for its election meddling.

But the president has largely dismissed the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that Putin ordered the meddling to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton and boost Trump’s odds of victory.

The White House has not said whether Trump will sign the bill, but White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said early Thursday that the president could choose to veto the bill.

“He may sign the sanctions exactly the way they are, or he may veto the sanctions and negotiate an even tougher deal against the Russians,” Scaramucci said on CNN’s “New Day.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer scoffed at the latter notion.

“The idea that the President would veto this legislation in order to toughen it up is laughable. I’m a New Yorker, too and I know bull when I hear it,” Schumer said from the Senate floor. “If the President vetoes this bill, the American people will know that he’s being soft on Putin.”

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