The White House Thursday broached the possibility that President Donald Trump could veto new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea, prompting sharp criticism from U.S. lawmakers of both political parties.
"He may sign the sanctions exactly the way they are, or he may veto the sanctions and negotiate an even tougher deal against the Russians,” White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci told CNN.
Even the hint of a veto brought swift reaction from Capitol Hill.
“I think that would be a very bad mistake,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, told VOA. “What would be better is if they [White House officials] worked with us on the legislation.”
“This [sanctions bill] gives the president a stronger hand in dealing with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” said the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ben Cardin of Maryland. “If he vetoes it, it means he doesn’t want a stronger hand in dealing with Mr. Putin."
“It’s hard to understand what comes out of the White House,” Cardin added.
“Congress has the power to override [a veto], and he would be overridden,” said New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer derided as "laughable" Scaramucci's assertion that Trump could negotiate even tougher sanctions against Russia.
"I'm a New Yorker too," Schumer said, adding, "And I know bull when I hear it."
The House of Representatives approved the sanctions bill Tuesday by a vote of 419-3. A similarly lopsided vote is expected in the Senate.
The bill seeks to impose an economic cost on Moscow, Tehran, and Pyongyang for an array of activities to which Washington objects, and gives Congress the power to block any presidential move to suspend the punitive measures.
During weeks of negotiations, the Trump administration initially pushed back at what it saw as an attempt to limit the executive branch’s ability to unilaterally ease sanctions, making the case that it limits U.S. leverage in attempts to impact Russian behavior and build a better relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
That concern seemed to have been resolved at the start of the week, when the White House voiced backing for the legislation
“The president very much supports sanctions on those countries and wants to make sure that those remain, but at the same time wants to make sure that we get good deals. Those two things are both very important for the president,” White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Monday.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Wednesday that Moscow would likely retaliate against the United States if the sanctions are imposed.
According to state-run Russian media, Ryabkov warned that the new sanctions will scuttle any chance of improved relations between Moscow and Washington. He also said that Russia had previously warned the Trump administration it would mount a response if U.S. lawmakers passed the bill.
VOA's Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.