419-3: House defies Trump, passes Russia sanctions bill that ties president's hands

Trump crapping on Jeff Sessions for refusing to shield him from Russiagate helped ensure near-unanimity here, I’d like to think.

It’s not overstating it to call this a vote of no confidence by the House in Trump’s willingness to drive a hard bargain with Putin diplomatically.

Three Republicans –Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Jimmy Duncan (Tenn.) and Thomas Massie (Ky.) — voted against the bill, which passed 419-3.

Tuesday’s vote amounted to a rebuke of President Trump, whose administration had pushed to water down the bill’s provisions giving Congress the power to veto the lifting of sanctions.

“This strong oversight is necessary. It is appropriate. After all, it is Congress that the Constitution empowers to regulate commerce with foreign nations,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said.

Interesting statement by Royce, anticipating the Trumpist objections that Congress has infringed on Trump’s constitutional power to conduct foreign policy with this bill. If you missed my post about it over the weekend, dive in now to see why it’s no exaggeration to call it a “rebuke” of the White House. The bill grants Congress a de facto veto in case Trump makes a deal with Putin and decides he wants to lift some sanctions as part of it. Either the majority or minority leader in the House or Senate can bring a resolution of disapproval if the president makes a move on sanctions that they don’t like; if two-thirds of both houses vote for that resolution, the sanctions remain in effect whether Trump likes it or not. The White House had lobbied Paul Ryan and the GOP leadership to soften that language and give the president some leeway to waive sanctions unilaterally. No dice. Not only did the provisions about bringing a resolution of disapproval stay in but the final version of the bill explicitly gave the minority party the right to bring such a resolution, guaranteeing the lopsided margin for the bill today. Take a moment to process that. In order to ensure that an overwhelming, veto-proof majority supported the bill, the House GOP made a key concession to Democrats at Trump’s expense. That’s how little they trust the president to be aggressive in America’s interests in negotiating with Moscow right now.

So it’s Trump’s move. If he signs the bill, he’s endorsing legislation that aims to embarrass him and rein in his ability to deal diplomatically with a key adversary. If he vetoes it, he’s staring at a humiliating veto-override vote that’ll make the bill law anyway. (An earlier version of this passed the Senate 98-2.) The White House has given conflicting signals in the last few days, suggesting first that Trump will sign it and later that it’s not sure what he’ll do. His best play if he wants to veto, I argued on Sunday, is to claim that it’s unconstitutional because it trods on his Article II authority over foreign policy. Even if he’s overridden, he’ll have noted his legal objection on the record and will be better positioned to challenge the law in court if/when he wants to lift sanctions on Russia later. He’ll probably sign it, though. The last thing he needs now is a showy veto that makes it look like he’s going to bat for Putin on sanctions.

Given how little Congress has managed to pass this year, The Hill notes that this may very well be the most significant piece of legislation to come out of the Trump-era Congress to date — and it’s a bill that hems him in on Russia. That’s some legacy.