In a rare show of bipartisanship on foreign policy, the Senate voted overwhelmingly on Thursday for a bill that would toughen sanctions on Russian Federation for interfering in the 2016 USA elections, as well slap new sanctions on Iran for efforts to expand its long range missile program.
As further punishment for Russia's involvement in the election, as well as wars in Syria and Ukraine, new sanctions would be placed on Russians who supply weapons to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, violate human rights or conduct cyberactivity for the government. It also creates a congressional review process if the executive branch eases current sanctions.
"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 told lawmakers Wednesday.
The measure flew in the face of President Donald Trump-who has both steadfastly called for better relations with Moscow and denied it had meddled in the election that saw him rise to power last year-now faces a hard decision on whether or not to sign the bill.
Following yesterday's vote on an amendment adding substantial sanctions against Russian Federation to the bill, the Senate today voted to pass the bill, which was designed primarily to impose a number of new sanctions on Iran for "non-nuclear" moves that the Senate objects to. Republican Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul voted against the amendment.
"It's particularly significant that a bipartisan coalition is seeking to reestablish Congress, not the president, as the final arbiter of sanctions relief", said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat.
US intelligence agencies concluded that Russian Federation sought to influence the American presidential election a year ago. The sanctions imposed by President Obama targeted two Russian intelligence agencies - the GRU and the FSB - as well as three companies that provided them material support, and four GRU officers.
On Thursday, the Senate overwhelmingly backed a bill that would impose additional sanctions on Iran and Russian Federation.
The bill penalizes Moscow for interfering in the 2016 election by imposing sanctions on key sectors of Russia's economy, including mining, metals, shipping and railways.
The proposal was included in an amendment that must still win definitive approval from the Senate and from the House of Representatives. That measure reflected Republican complaints that Obama had overstepped the power of the presidency and needed to be checked by Congress.
According to Politico, a senior administration official stated that the "White House is concerned that the legislation would tie its hands on U.S. -Russia relations".