U.S. senators renewed calls on Tuesday for President Donald Trump to promptly sign sweeping sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea that both houses of Congress overwhelmingly approved last week.
The White House has repeatedly indicated the president’s intention to sign the legislation into law, but no date has been set nor has a signing ceremony been announced for a bill that already prompted retaliation from Moscow.
“It’s a concern now. I’m not sure that there is any rational or defensible reason for not having signed it already,” said Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, who serves on the Intelligence Committee probing Russian meddling in last year’s U.S. election. “It’s long past time that this administration send the signal that they are serious about dealing with Russia as the adversary it is.”
Asked about a possible signing ceremony, Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado urged President Trump to “hurry up and do it.”
“The sanctions bill has tremendous congressional support,” Gardner said. “I don’t think anybody here is worried about how Russia is going to retaliate. What we care about is Russia abiding by international law and the norms of behavior we expect them to abide by.”
At Tuesday’s White House briefing, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed Trump has yet to sign the bill, but insisted the president will do so.
“There’s nothing holding him back,” Sanders said. “There’s a review process, a legal process. They are going through that and he [Trump] will sign the bill and we’ll let you guys know.”
For some Democrats, any hesitation by the president to sign legislation offensive to Moscow looks suspicious in light of a series of widely-reported contacts between Russian figures and members of Trump’s inner circle.
“It’s very troubling. The president has gone literally from saying there was no collusion to ‘so what?’” said Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon.
“They [Trump administration] haven’t wanted it [Russia sanctions] since the beginning. A failure to sign this bill starts to come close to an admission of guilt,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut told VOA. “This has no Republican opposition here in the Congress. It seems like a no-brainer for the president to sign.”
While senators expressed impatience with the White House, Vice President Mike Pence spoke as though new sanctions were a foregone conclusion.
"The president and our Congress are unified in our message to Russia: a better relationship, the lifting of sanctions, will require Russia to reverse the actions that required sanctions to be imposed in the first place," Pence said during a visit to Georgia Tuesday.
Back in Washington, senators of both parties stressed the bill will become law, one way or another.
“If he doesn’t sign it, it will be the quickest override in the history of overrides,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
"The Trump administration is never predictable. I don’t know what they’re doing,” said Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. “I do know this: I expect he’ll sign the bill [but] if he doesn’t sign it, we’ll override his veto.”