HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: The White House said today President Trump supports the bill working its way through Congress to toughen sanctions on Russia for meddling in last year’s election and for its military aggression in Syria and Ukraine. The bill, which also contains new sanctions for Iran and North Korea, would limit the president’s ability to end the sanctions on his own.
“New York Times” reporter Matt Flegenheimer joins me now from Washington to discuss the legislation.
Matt, let’s first talk about what’s in these sanctions.
MATT FLEGENHEIMER, REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: It’s essentially, I think, some of these we’ve seen against other countries, obviously, this is a package that includes North Korea and Iran as well. Essentially on the Russia front, singling out corrupt actors who sort of undercut American interests, to those who supplied arms to the Assad regime in Syria, cyber security issues obviously, including during the elections last year. So, it’s casting a pretty wide net here.
SREENIVASAN: And this is — it also includes, I mean, Congress has kind of baked in this, in these sanctions bill, that the president couldn’t necessarily undo them on his own.
FLEGENHEIMER: Right. I mean, that’s really the piece of this the Democrats have been most adamant about and they’ve gotten buy in from Republicans as well. If you step back, it’s really quite remarkable to think that six months into an administration with majorities form Republicans in both chambers of Congress, that you are seeing essentially a handcuffing of a sitting president on an issue so central to the sort of public understanding of this president with Russia. And essentially the message is that he cannot be trusted not to sort of undo these sanctions that at this point have pretty broad bipartisan support among both parties in Congress.
SREENIVASAN: So, by the time this gets through a vote on Tuesday, this is also going to include sanctions against Iran and North Korea, which are also things that have kind of a bipartisan consensus. It makes it very, very tough to veto it.
FLEGENHEIMER: It does and the White House has been very supportive for months of toughening sanctions against those two countries. So, it does make it a difficult position for him.
I mean, the White House has acknowledged privately I think for a few weeks from now that it’s pretty untenable politically in this environment for him to veto. Today for the first time as you said, we’ve seen them signal that he would actually support this.
SREENIVASAN: The president, and actually many presidents have said, you know, this is a purview of the presidency. This should be my right to be able to do this, this is my executive power. In this piece of legislation, it’s kind of at least in these particularly sanctions, we are seeing that power limited.
FLEGENHEIMER: Sure, and President Trump is certainly not the first president to chafe at any kind of shackles put on him in foreign policy by Congress. And again, having Republicans in Congress whom the administration has lobbied for months now against these measures really makes this a pretty extraordinary in moment of the Republican Congress this early in the administration, setting this check against president, when they’ve been often disinclined to confront him.
SREENIVASAN: And there were disagreements at least on the House side when this bill got there. And what were those compared to what already had passed through Senate?
FLEGENHEIMER: It was a combination of things. Initially, Speaker Ryan and the Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy raised concerns about sort of technical issues with which chamber originates bills that have to do with raising revenue. There is some other concerns concerning American businesses, a lot of oil and gas companies lobbied against these measures, arguing that it would undercut their profits, defense contractors as well.
So, you saw a little bit of a tweak on that in the House version of this. Not certainly what the White House had hoped to get out of this bill once it moved through the Senate in the first place.
SREENIVASAN: All right. Matt Flegenheimer of “The New York Times”, joining us from Washington — thanks so much.
FLEGENHEIMER: Thanks, Hari.