Congressional leaders have reached agreement on sanctions that would at once punish Russia for its interference in the U.S. election and sharply cuff presidential power to suspend or end those sanctions.
Both are needed as this nation plunges into uncharted territory, with a president who stubbornly refuses to accept the consensus of his own intelligence agencies regarding Russian interference and who has made erratic statements on foreign policy that leave allies and enemies alike questioning U.S. resolve.
The House could vote as early as Tuesday on legislation that would allow Congress to block any attempt by President Donald Trump to ease existing sanctions against Moscow. It includes sanctions against Iran and, importantly, North Korea, a country Trump has sought to rein in.
An earlier sanctions bill drew a near-unanimous vote in the Senate, and this version is expected to have strong bipartisan support. Minnesota Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen indicated Monday to an editorial writer that he would vote for the bill, and an aide said GOP U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis would as well. U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer's office could not provide an update on his position on Monday.
Paulsen called on the House to move "as expeditiously as possible." "I strongly support the increased sanctions against Russia and have been urging leadership to address this since the Senate passed it with overwhelming bipartisan support," he said in a statement.
Congress must send an unmistakable message to those who act against this country. It also must assert its independence as an equal branch of government and disabuse Trump once and for all of the notion — tweeted by him over the weekend — that GOP lawmakers should "protect their President." They are not his shield.
World situations change swiftly, and a president should be able to shape foreign policy without running it past 535 lawmakers. Having Congress pass sanctions and give itself veto power over the president's ability to lift them is a serious check on that power. It should not be taken as a precedent, but rather a move dictated by the gravity of the current situation.
Trump's presidency is still young. He should support the sanctions and join forces with the legislative branch in a show of unity that would demonstrate his intent not to be taken in by Russian threats or inducements.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy succinctly explained what's at stake when he said: "North Korea, Iran and Russia have in different ways all threatened their neighbors and actively sought to undermine American interests." The bill, he said, would "hold them accountable for their dangerous actions." That should be a message any president could support.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's threats of retaliation should the U.S. refuse to hand over seized Russian diplomatic compounds used for espionage — as well as his country's election meddling, seizure of Crimea and pattern of harassing U.S. diplomats — necessitate a strong response. Congress, thankfully, appears willing to deliver it.