In a rare show of bipartisanship on foreign policy, the Senate voted overwhelmingly on Thursday for a bill that would toughen sanctions on Russia for interfering in the 2016 U.S. elections, as well slap new sanctions on Iran for efforts to expand its long range missile program. The vote was 98-2, with only Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) voting against the measure.
"This is a very, very strong piece of legislation," said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who noted that in many ways it was developed "under the radar" because it was bipartisan in nature.
"Today the United States Senate is asserting its responsibilities as it relates to foreign policy," Corker added on the Senate floor.
"First, it stands up to the aggression of Russia and Iran," said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD).
Final approval of the bill came a day after a 97-2 vote in favor of an amendment to the Iran Sanctions bill that puts into law existing American sanctions against Russia, dealing not only with U.S. protests over aggression in Crimea and Ukraine, but also in response to Russian cyber attacks linked to the 2016 elections.
"The additional Iran and Russia sanctions that passed today give the administration the necessary tools to deter threats from these regimes," said Sen. John Thune (R-SD).
Currently, President Trump could relax the Russian sanctions unilaterally; these provisions would take that power away from him, and force any changes to go through the Congress.
This bill still must go to the House for consideration; it's not clear whether it will be advanced by GOP leaders there, as the Trump Administration is not pleased with some of the details.
"I would urge Congress to ensure any legislation allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday in an appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The vote to strengthen sanctions against Russia - which Senators on both parties made clear was designed to send a message on Russian meddling in the 2016 elections - came hours after President Donald Trump had again mocked the investigation surrounding those charges.
"You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history," the President wrote on Twitter.
On the Iran sanctions, despite some opposition from a few officials in the Obama Administration, the plan focuses extra sanctions on Iranian support for terrorism, human rights abuses, and most importantly the work on a ballistic missile program.
As for those opposed to the measure, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said the plan left him with no good choice.
"I am strongly supportive of the sanctions on Russia included in this bill," Sanders said in a statement. "It is unacceptable for Russia to interfere in our elections here in the United States, or anywhere around the world."
"But I believe that these new sanctions could endanger the very important nuclear agreement that was signed between the United States, its partners and Iran in 2015," Sanders added.
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