July 28, 2017


Congress does not trust the president (The Economist, Jul 27th 2017)

The implications are momentous. Mr Trump had hoped to lift the existing package of sanctions on Russia at some point. Now he has been stripped of his presidential authority to do so. Since the vote was almost unanimous, he may have no option but to accept it with as much good grace as he can muster. He could veto it, but presidential vetoes can be overridden by a two-thirds majority in both chambers, which in this instance could be achieved.

The bill both locks in and extends previous sanctions aimed at Russia's energy firms and banks. It also now targets any entity that does business with Russia's defence or intelligence sectors--a measure that could threaten buyers of Russian weapons with secondary sanctions. This is a blow to Mr Trump, who made it clear during his campaign that he wanted improved ties with Moscow. It now appears that many of the undeclared meetings that have subsequently come to light between Mr Trump's inner circle of advisers--Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump junior--and an assortment of Russians with links of various directness to the Kremlin, most notably Sergey Kislyak, the ubiquitous and gregarious former Washington ambassador, were aimed at thawing relations.

Vladimir Putin--who, beyond the reasonable doubt of America's intelligence agencies (if not its president), authorised the election-hacking operation--may have had reason to believe that Mr Trump, once in the White House, would find a way to relax sanctions. American and European Union sanctions have dragged down Russia's economy, which, already reeling from low energy prices, contracted sharply in 2015 and has stagnated since.

By overreaching, Mr Trump and Mr Putin have made the relaxation of sanctions politically toxic. That is bad enough for Mr Trump, but his humiliation does not end there. The Republican majority in Congress has, in essence, declared that it does not trust a president from its own party to serve the national interest when it comes to dealing with Russia.

Not that we can rule out the possibility he likes having his little hands tied....
Posted by at July 28, 2017 5:16 AM