Last month, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to impose sanctions on Russia in response to the country's interference in the 2016 presidential election. In an increasingly rare display of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, senators passed the bill 97-2.
Today Donald Trump grudgingly signed the bill into law, describing it as a "seriously flawed." It was the most significant piece of legislation of his presidency, but Trump signed it with no public event. He coupled it with a written statement that accused Congress of overstepping its constitutional bounds, impeding his ability to negotiate with foreign countries and lacking any ability to strike deals.
Still, he said, "despite its problems, I am signing this bill for the sake of national unity."
The legislation is aimed at penalizing Moscow for its interference in the U.S. presidential election and its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria, where the Kremlin has backed President Bashar Assad.
Prior to the 2016 election, 17 federal intelligence agencies concluded that Russia was behind the email hacks that were designed to damage Hillary Clinton's campaign. Trump has failed to condemn the cyberattacks and repeatedly asserted that Russian interference didn't play a role in his surprising electoral college victory.
Today Russia's prime minister said the sanctions bill ends hopes for improved U.S.-Russia ties. Dmitry Medvedev wrote in a Facebook post that "Trump's administration has demonstrated total impotence by surrendering its executive authority to Congress in the most humiliating way."
Medvedev thinks the "American establishment has won an overwhelming victory over Trump" and he described the sanctions as "yet another way to put Trump in his place." The prime minister contends the new penalties amount to the declaration of an "all-out trade war against Russia."
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow reserves the right to take further retaliatory measures in response to the sanctions bill.
The statement came not long after Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had noted that "retaliatory measures already have been taken," a reference to Russia's decision to sharply cut the U.S. diplomatic personnel and close a U.S. recreational retreat and warehouse facilities. The Foreign Ministry is emphasizing that "we naturally reserve the right for other countermeasures."
Earlier today, House Speaker Paul Ryan said President Donald Trump's signing of sanctions legislation sends a powerful message to U.S. foes that "they will be held accountable for their actions."
Ryan's brief statement made no mention of Trump's criticism of the legislation that had passed the House overwhelmingly last week.
Ryan says the sanctions directly target "the destructive and destabilizing activities of Iran, Russia, and North Korea." The Wisconsin Republican says the United State will continue to use "every instrument of American power to defend this nation and the people we serve."
However, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pointed out that Trump's statement blasting the Russia sanctions bill he signed into law raises serious questions about whether his administration will actually follow the law.
Pelosi said the Republican-led Congress must not allow the White House to "wriggle out of its duty to impose these sanctions for Russia's brazen assault on our democracy."
She added that "Democrats will demand tough oversight to ensure strong and immediate implementation of the sanctions law."