(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. Senate Thursday passed legislation targeting Russia, Iran and North Korea by an overwhelming margin, sending to President Trump’s desk a measure which the White House has not wholeheartedly endorsed.
The Senate voted 98-2 in favor of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act – the most consequential foreign policy legislation to pass since Trump took office – two days after the House passed it by a vote of 419-3.
The two “no” votes came from former 2016 presidential aspirants from either side of the aisle, Kentucky Republican Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who ran as a Democrat in the presidential primaries.
Paul and Sanders also cast the only two opposing votes when the Senate last month passed precursor legislation targeting Iran’s missile program and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
While the reworked bill heading to the president’s desk seeks to punish three regimes for a range of belligerent actions and policies, it is the Russia element that has drawn resistance from the White House.
Specifically, the bill requires a 30-day congressional review of any plan by the president to ease Russian sanctions – a review that could end with a vote on a joint resolution of approval or disapproval.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has consistently denied claims of meddling in the 2016 U.S. election in favor of Trump, has vowed to retaliate against any new sanctions.
For months the Trump administration has been fending off accusations about improper relations with Russia – allegations White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday described again as “a witch hunt and a hoax.”
Earlier in the day, new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said Trump might veto the legislation, but also indicated that if he did so it wouldn’t be because he views the sanctions as too tough on Moscow.
“He may decide to veto the sanctions and be tougher on the Russians than the Congress,” he told CNN.
“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,” Scaramucci added, describing Trump as “a counter-intuitive, counterpunching personality.”
“We’re going to wait and see what that final legislation looks like and make a decision at that point,” Sanders told a White House briefing.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who introduced the bill earlier, praised the Senate’s vote “to give the administration much-needed economic and political leverage to address threats from Iran, Russia, and North Korea.”
“This bipartisan bill is about keeping America safe, and I urge the president to sign it into law,” he said.
A presidential veto can be overridden by a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate.
Ahead of the Senate vote, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the bill’s progress “rather sad from the standpoint of Russian-U.S. relations and their future.”
“It is no less dismaying in terms of international law and international trade relations,” the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted him as saying Wednesday.
Welcoming the Iran-related provisions of the bill, the exiled Iranian opposition group National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) called for its strict implementation.
“The immediate implementation of sanctions against the IRGC and its affiliated entities must be coupled with the expulsion of IRGC and its affiliated militias from the Middle East, in particular from Syria and Iraq,” said NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi.
She also called on other countries, especially in Europe and the Middle East, to enact sanctions on Tehran, “to deny the regime the opportunity to take advantage of its diplomatic and commercial ties with them and continue to suppress the Iranian people and export terrorism and war to the rest of the region.”