The United States Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that imposes new sanctions on Russia while also preventing President Donald Trump from overturning current sanctions against the country accused of attempting to swing the 2016 election.
The legislation, which passed with a vote of 97 to 2, is the strongest challenge yet from Republican lawmakers against the Trump administration, which has continually refused to take a hard line against Moscow—even as new reports reveal the extent of the Kremlin’s apparent attempts to interfere in America’s democratic process.
U.S. intelligence agencies released a report in early January detailing what they described as multi-pronged “influence campaigns” waged by Russia against the U.S. political process. The efforts included releasing fake news reports, pro-Kremlin trolls, and hacks against the Democratic National Committee and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton‘s campaign. The latter resulted in WikiLeaks publishing tens of thousands of stolen emails. New reports revealed that Russian hackers infiltrated the voting systems of 39 states ahead of the November election.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is believed to have personally ordered the attacks on the U.S. election process as retribution for a snub by Clinton during her tenure as secretary of state, according to U.S. intelligence.
Former President Barack responded to Russia’s attempts to influence the presidential election by imposing sanctions on the country and seizing two U.S.-based facilities reportedly used by Russian intelligence for surveillance purposes. Late last month, reports indicated that the Trump administration was in talks with Russian officials to return the spy houses.
There are five ongoing investigations into Russia’s attempts to meddle in the 2016 election: four by congressional committees, and one led by Special Prosecutor Robert Muller, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, whom Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed after Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey last month.
To help protect against a Trump veto, senators merged the bill, which enshrines sanctions against Russia’s military and intelligence sectors, with legislation imposing further sanctions on Iran. Still, the bill is not guaranteed to get passed the president’s desk. The House may also succumb to what one senator described to Politico as efforts by the White House to weaken the bill.
“I know that some people in the White House are pushing back,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (R-Ohio), told reporters, according to Politico. “People in the White House, we hear, are making calls in the House to try to stop it, slow it, weaken it, dilute it.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has so far refused to endorse the new sanctions, arguing that the president needs “flexibility” to properly deal with a dynamic relationship between Washington and Moscow.
“I would urge Congress to ensure any legislation allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation,” Tillerson said.