For much of Barack Obama’s second term, congressional Republicans had convinced themselves that the Democratic president had dictatorial impulses that led him to ignore measures approved by Congress. In 2014, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) whined that the United States has “an increasingly lawless presidency.”Perhaps the Speaker had the appropriate concern, but he simply expressed it a few years too early.
The Trump administration late Monday released a long-awaited list of 114 Russian politicians and 96 “oligarchs” who have flourished during the reign of President Vladimir Putin, fulfilling a demand by Congress that the U.S. punish Moscow for interfering in the 2016 U.S. election.
Yet the administration paired that move with a surprising announcement that it had decided not to punish anybody – for now – under new sanctions retaliating for the election-meddling. Some U.S. lawmakers said President Donald Trump was giving a free pass to those Congress intended to target, fueling further questions about whether the president is too soft on Russia.
Just so we’re clear, the law wasn’t intended to make sanctions on Russia optional. What’s more, this isn’t the first time the president and his team have dragged their feet on implementing congressionally approved sanctions on the country that attacked U.S. elections in 2016.
It helps explain why some lawmakers aren’t exactly pleased this morning. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the ranking member on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said on Twitter this morning, “Congress voted 517-5 to impose sanctions on Russia. The President decides to ignore that law. Folks that is a constitutional crisis. There should be outrage in every corner of this country.”
R. Nicholas Burns, the former United States Ambassador to NATO, added, “Congress can’t let Putin go unpunished for interfering in our election. Trump’s weakness is appalling.”
There are a few ways to consider the broader context. For example, we could note that yesterday was a discouraging one for our democracy: the deputy director of the FBI, after becoming a Donald Trump punching bag, was forced from his post; Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee took their crusade to shield Donald Trump to unprecedented levels; and the Trump administration effectively ignored a recently approved law on Russian sanctions.
There’s also the critical significance of sanctions, which must be understood to appreciate what core elements of the Russia scandal are all about.
But for those concerned about the president’s pro-Russia instincts, and whether Trump has been compromised by his benefactors in Russia, consider some basic truths:
When Russia disagreed with U.S. intelligence agencies, Trump believed Vladimir Putin.
When Russia moved against U.S. diplomats, Trump thanked Vladimir Putin.
And when Congress approved sanctions against Russia, Trump blamed Congress and sided with Vladimir Putin.
I wonder why.