Friday, March 23, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He may have gotten tricked into more sanctions against Russia.

Trump signed an omnibus spending bill today, after a brief mid-morning veto-threat tantrum apparently inspired by Fox & Friends. (This was a particularly sharp mood swing even by Trump standards: as of yesterday, Trump was enthusiastically promoting the bill.)

Alarmed Republicans and staffers eventually dragged Trump back to the signing desk, but he grumbled that he would never again sign such a bill. He pointedly complained to reporters that "nobody read it."

It's true that most members of Congress (and Trump himself) didn't read most parts of the bill, but then there are never any mysteries or secrets about what is in such bills by the time they come to the floor. But it now appears that Congress actually did sneak something past Trump (who also didn't read the bill): still more sanctions against Russia for their attacks against the United States and allied democracies, and increased funding for investigations into the Putin regime. 

The sanctions language was added into the bill anonymously, and was not widely discussed or publicly debated. While White House staffers were surely aware of them, there is no evidence that Trump knew he was authorizing penalties against Russia.

Forcing Trump to actually defend the United States is one of the few things that almost everyone in Congress can agree on. In July, Congress passed sanctions against Russia by a combined vote of 517-5, although Trump refused to implement them.

Why is this a problem?

  • It's very bad if the president has to be tricked into doing his job.
  • It's also very bad if the president can be tricked this way.