Washington — US President Donald Trump signed into law Wednesday a sanctions bill that includes new limits on Arctic, deepwater and shale oil projects with Russian stakes, despite significant opposition.
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Trump said in a statement the bill was "seriously flawed" and contained provisions that encroach on presidential powers and harm US businesses and European allies.
"Yet despite its problems, I am signing this bill for the sake of national unity," Trump said. "It represents the will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States. We hope there will be cooperation between our two countries on major global issues so that these sanctions will no longer be necessary."
Related Capitol Crude podcast episode: Making sense of sanctions: The US, Venezuela, Russia, energy and oil flows
The Trump administration had opposed provisions in the bill preventing the president from lifting or weakening existing sanctions without congressional approval, and had lobbied unsuccessfully to have those provisions removed.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson criticized the bill overwhelmingly passed by Congress last week.
"The action by the Congress to put these sanctions in place, and the way they did it, neither the president nor I are very happy about that," Tillerson said during a press briefing. "We were clear that we didn't think it was going to be helpful to our efforts, but that's the decision they made."
Democratic leaders said Wednesday that Trump's statements made with the bill signing indicate that he may not impose sanctions as Congress intended.
"President Trump's signing statement raises serious questions about whether his Administration intends to follow the law, or whether he will continue to enable and reward Vladimir Putin's aggression," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democrat-California, said in a statement. "The Republican Congress must not permit the Trump White House to wriggle out of its duty to impose these sanctions for Russia's brazen assault on our democracy."
The Senate passed the bill by a 98-2 vote on July 27 after the House passed it by a 491-3 vote on July 25.
The bill, motivated largely by alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, could prohibit US companies from investing in Arctic, deepwater and shale crude oil projects in which Russian companies have a 33% or more ownership or controlling stake.
That threshold was set after US oil and gas companies said language in the Senate bill could lead to Russian companies buying minimal stakes in certain energy projects, forcing US firms to relinquish their shares.
It also calls for new limits on investment in Russian pipeline projects, a provision aimed at derailing the Nord Stream 2 gas project and criticized by European leaders, and narrows time limits for available debt instruments.
Whether the new Russia sanctions will ever be imposed by Trump remains an open question. Much of the legislation simply gives Trump the authority to impose new sanctions, but does not require him to do so.
Other sanctions may not be imposed if Trump determines that doing so would not be in US national interests.
In a signing statement to formally accompany the bill, Trump flagged concerns over 11 separate sections of the bill, including new provisions on Ukrainian energy security, codification of existing sanctions and arms transfers to Syria.
"In its haste to pass this legislation, the Congress included a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions," Trump said in the statement.
On some provisions, he indicated the administration may seek further review before implementing any changes in sanctions policy.
"My Administration will give careful and respectful consideration to the preferences expressed by the Congress in these various provisions and will implement them in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations," Trump said.
Several Democrats took issue with Trump's statement, claiming it showed that the administration was looking for ways around what will be a new law.
"It's important to note that the congressional reviews in this law are not 'preferences' as the President states in his signing statement, but rather are mandates passed by overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate," Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat-New Hampshire, said in a statement.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat-New York, said Trump's statement on the sanctions bill shows that Congress needs to keep a "sharp eye" on the administration.
In his other statement, Trump more directly criticized Congress as a "bad deal" with foreign nations.
"I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars," Trump said. "That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress."
--Brian Scheid, firstname.lastname@example.org
--Edited by Annie Siebert, email@example.com