Monday, July 24, 2017

A test for Trump -- to veto or not to veto?

With President Trump's obvious preference for Vladimir Putin and his leadership style in Russia -- and in the wake of the debacle of Don Jr's meeting with the Russian lawyer offering collusion, which he was eager to take, as shown in his self-released emails --  and with special counsel Robert Mueller delving into Trump businesses -- and now in the midst of his son, son-in-law, and former campaign manager all set to testify to congressional committees this week --

-- With all of that swirling inside the White House, a bipartisan group of both House and Senate members announced yesterday that they had reached an agreement on a legislation that imposes sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea.  These additional sanctions against Russia are retaliation for its interference in the 2016 presidential election, as well as its aggression toward its neighbors.

The legislation -- very importantly -- also introduces new requirements that make it very difficult for the president to lift these sanctions without congressional approval.

This legislation originated in a bill passed by the Senate by a vote of 97 to 2.  The House is expected to vote on it Tuesday, but both parties are backing the bill and expect a similar, overwhelming support.   In short, it is probably going to be a veto-proof piece of legislation.

Trump's public complaint about the bill is that it would take away his flexibility in conducting foreign policy.   That might be an acceptable argument with a president you respect and trust.   But Trump has proven he cannot be trusted, even by his own party.

The question then becomes:   will Trump veto it?   He had been critical of the Senate version, and this new version made a few minor changes, without weakening any of the basic parts of the bill.   But it does give him a face-saving claim to support it -- if he wants to take it.

Of course, he's torn between whatever he owes Putin and the price he would pay politically for a veto.   It seems clear that there is nothing Putin wants from Trump more than lifting sanctions that already are hurting him, and not have more imposed.  So who knows what price Trump would pay with Putin if he doesn't veto it.  But with such bipartisan, veto-proof support for sanctions, it would be an empty gesture -- and at great domestic political cost when he can ill afford it.

So, I think we can conclude that, if he does veto the bill, it must indicate that his debt to Putin and the consequences must be enormous.

The truth is that Donald Trump likes to keep people guessing, and only he (if anyone) knows what he will do . . . until he does it.


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