Trump loses Congress on Russia

Over the weekend, Congress reached an agreement on sweeping sanctions legislation to punish Russia for its election meddling and aggression toward its neighbors. Congress thereby rejected President Trump’s contention that he needs flexibility to adjust the sanctions to fit his diplomatic initiatives with Moscow. Congressional Republicans, it appears, don’t have faith in Trump’s diplomatic initiatives with Moscow.

Will Trump veto the legislation? Probably not. He seems to lack the votes to sustain a veto. Thus, the main consequences of a veto would be (1) an embarrassing defeat and (2) a reinforcement of the view that he is, if not a tool of the Kremlin, then way too sympathetic towards it.

I have mixed feelings about the legislation. I very want to see harsher sanctions imposed on Russia. However, as a general matter, I don’t like it when Congress ties the president’s hands on foreign policy.

Only when there is strong reason to believe the president is well off-track do I favor congressional interference. I thought President Obama’s Iran policy was such an instance.

Congress, including its Republican members, believe we have reached that point with President Trump’s Russia policy. And not without reason. From Trump’s campaign comments about Putin, to his initial unwillingness to agree that Russia interfered in the election, through his decision just last week to abandon anti-Assad, and therefore anti-Russia, forces in Syria that we have previously backed, the president has caused Congress to believe he is well off-track when it comes to Russia.

Democrats believe, or claim to, that Putin effectively has bought him. Some Republicans may also suspect this to be the case. Others may think that Putin’s successful (so far) authoritarianism makes him attractive to Trump. Still others simply worry that Trump doesn’t know who he’s dealing with and/or what he is doing.

Are any of these concerns justified? It hardly matters.

A president’s power depends to a considerable degree on maintaining the confidence of his own party. Trump has lost that confidence when it comes to Russia. Therefore, he has lost power.

There’s an important lesson in this. I hope Trump learns it.

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