Oddly enough, given the current political environment, this declaration hasn’t received much attention — not as much as claims that the White House has dragged its heels on Russian sanctions, anyway. Earlier this morning, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told a House subcommittee that Donald Trump is “fully supportive” of Congressional sanctions over Russian interference in the 2016 election. In fact, Mnuchin plans to roll out enforcement efforts within the next few weeks.
MSNBC’s anchors, however, correctly called this “a major announcement”:
JUST IN: Treasury Secretary Mnuchin announces Trump admin. will sanction Russia over election meddling.
"I expect in the next several weeks we will be moving forward with sanctions on Russia as a result of the act." pic.twitter.com/Y2uEualSC7
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) March 6, 2018
AFP also picked it up:
Despite President Donald Trump’s public statements appearing to oppose sanctions against Russia, the steps ordered by Congress will be imposed in coming weeks, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday.
In testimony before a House subcommittee, Mnuchin pushed back against the idea that Trump is trying to block the sanctions in response to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, saying Trump is “fully supportive.”
“We will implement them,” Mnuchin said. “I expect in next several weeks we’ll be going forward with sanctions on Russia.”
As of mid-afternoon, most US outlets (other, oddly, than MSNBC) had mainly skipped Mnuchin’s announcement. The Washington Post didn’t mention it at all, and neither did the New York Times. NBC picked it up as shown above through the cut above, but ABC didn’t, and neither did CBS, CNN, or even Fox News. (Thankfully, it’s easy to run searches on a name like Mnuchin.)
That seems mighty odd considering that Trump’s lack of action on Congressional sanctions had been cited as proof of his debt to Putin. AFP even dropped that context into their coverage:
Trump’s vocal opposition to the package — which entered into law earlier this year — and his regular praise of Vladimir Putin has raised questions about whether the administration is dragging its feet, which has angered some lawmakers.
If Mnuchin follows through, they’ll have less reason to be angry — or at least one would assume. This is a rather significant announcement, although it’s also the correct action to take. Regardless of the impact one believes Russian meddling had on the 2016 election — and I don’t think it even registered on the meter — countries can’t simply shrug it off or act as though acknowledging that interference somehow invalidates their credibility. The election’s over, and this government has to assign costs to malefactors who attempt to interfere with our election process, no matter how lame or ineffective that interference might have been.
In other words, Russia’s actions are those of a geopolitical foe, not a friend. Act accordingly. The Trump administration appears to have decided to do just that, and better late than never.
It’s not the only interesting comment from Mnuchin today. When pressed on steel and aluminum tariffs, Mnuchin replied that Canada and Mexico could be exempted from them — on one condition:
Sec. Mnuchin says, "To the extent that we’re successful in renegotiating NAFTA, [steel and aluminum] tariffs won’t apply to Mexico and Canada." pic.twitter.com/dYA8KSFGu3
— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 6, 2018
Gee, that’s what Trump tweeted out yesterday, too. It’s almost like Trump wants to use the threat of tariffs as negotiating leverage more than as a consistent policy! Or, perhaps better put, use tariffs as a consistent policy for renegotiating trade agreements. On no other issue than trade has Trump been more consistent, both in his short political career and as a businessman: he’s an unabashed protectionist. Whether or not tariffs are bad policy is another question (they generally are), but he’s not going to put that tool aside before he starts scoring some wins on trade agreements.
What happens if he doesn’t start scoring some wins? The economy will take a hit, and that may make more lawmakers angry with him. You can bet that’ll get plenty of media coverage. If Trump prevails, however …