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White House offers a mixed message on new Russia sanctions

Will Donald Trump sign new Russia sanctions into law? That depends on whom at the White House you ask.
Image: Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Anthony Scaramucci
Anthony Scaramucci, incoming White House communications director, left, follows new White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders into the briefing room...

In mid-June, a bipartisan Senate majority easily approved new legislation imposing new sanctions on Russia, as part of the U.S. response to Russia's election attack, Donald Trump's refusal to accept the evidence notwithstanding. The final vote was 97 to 2.

In the days and weeks that followed, the White House has launched an aggressive push to derail the bill -- or at least water it down considerably -- before it can pass the House. Those efforts have apparently failed. The New York Times reported over the weekend:

Congressional leaders have reached an agreement on sweeping sanctions legislation to punish Russia for its election meddling and aggression toward its neighbors, they said Saturday, defying the White House's argument that President Trump needs flexibility to adjust the sanctions to fit his diplomatic initiatives with Moscow.The new legislation would sharply limit the president's ability to suspend or terminate the sanctions -- a remarkable handcuffing by a Republican-led Congress six months into Mr. Trump's tenure.

With broad backing, the bill is expected to pass both chambers. But it's at this point where things will get even more interesting.

If the president signs the bill, he'll annoy his benefactors in Moscow while simultaneously ceding some of his own power. If Trump vetoes the bill, he'll look like he's doing Putin's bidding, while setting up an ugly clash with his ostensible Republican allies -- who might just override his veto.

So, what's the White House's next move? That apparently depends on whom at the White House you ask. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president and his team "support where the legislation is now." Around the same time, Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said Trump "hasn't made the decision yet to sign that bill one way or the other."

It's quite a fine-tuned machine.