President-elect Donald Trump’s opposition to President Barack Obama’s retaliation against Russia for trying to influence the U.S. election will immediately pit him against the hawkish wing of the Republican party. And it soon could force him to veto additional penalties supported by his own party.
The White House on Thursday revealed a set of economic sanctions and other penalties intended to squeeze Russian leaders for backing and — as Obama administration officials have acknowledged — being directly involved in hacking email servers designed to help Trump defeat Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The Obama administration announced that it has imposed sanctions on Russia over its hacking during the U.S. election. The punitive measures target nine entities and individuals: two Russian intelligence services, four intelligence officers and three companies that provide support to Russian cyber operations.
The administration is also expelling 35 Russian officials stationed either at the embassy in Washington or the consulate in San Francisco. The individuals and their families have been given 72 hours to leave the U.S. And a senior administration official told reporters those actions are not the lone ones Washington implemented, signaling covert retaliation, as well.
But the senior official said Obama’s moves came via executive actions, meaning Trump could reverse any or all of the moves after he is sworn in on Jan. 20.
Republican lawmakers who are influential on Capitol Hill on defense and foreign policy issues had called for the White House to respond with even sharper elbows. Some have issued dire assessments of what the Kremlin-backed hacking means for the United States, and suggested they will join with Democrats to propose even stiffer penalties on Russia — meaning Trump appears on a collision course with his party.
By aligning with Democrats, rather than backing the incoming GOP president, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., and others are signaling just one of a number of areas that could leave Trump’s early months dominated by Republican infighting.
“The retaliatory measures announced by the Obama Administration today are long overdue,” McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, another GOP member of the committee, said in a statement. “But ultimately, they are a small price for Russia to pay for its brazen attack on American democracy.”
The duo says they plan to “lead the effort in the new Congress to impose stronger sanctions on Russia,” showing Trump and a large faction of his party’s caucus disagree.
“There are a lot more defense hawks in our caucus than budget hawks,” Deputy House GOP Whip Tom Cole, R-Okla., told Roll Call this week, before the White House announcement. “I think we’ve seen that clearly over the last few years.”
Any bipartisan sanctions bill would need the support of Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin to make it out of the House.
“Russia does not share America’s interests. In fact, it has consistently sought to undermine them, sowing dangerous instability around the world,” he said in a statement Thursday. “While today’s action by the administration is overdue, it is an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia. And it serves as a prime example of this administration’s ineffective foreign policy that has left America weaker in the eyes of the world.”
Trump suggested this week that the hacking matter should be put to rest. But McCain says Russia’s actions “threaten democracy.”
“This is the sign of a possible unraveling of the world order that was established after World War II, which has made one of the most peaceful periods in the history of the world,” McCain recently told CNN. “We’re starting to see the strains and the unraveling of it, and that is because of the absolute failure of American leadership.”
And Graham has a message from Trump: Expect lawmakers from both parties to send the new president legislation proposing even harsher sanctions than what Obama ordered Thursday.
“You can expect that the Congress will investigate the Russian involvement in our elections and there will be bipartisan sanctions coming that will hit Russia hard, particularly Putin as an individual,” Graham said Wednesday.
McCain, Graham and senior Democratic senators, including incoming Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, are pressing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to form one bipartisan select committee to conduct a single probe of the Russian hacking. So far, McConnell is holding firm that the Senate Intelligence Committee will handle the formal investigation.
Trump, on the other hand, was dismissive of the moves Obama has ordered when asked about them on Wednesday evening at his golf resort in Florida.
“I think we ought to get on with our lives,” said Trump, who was flanked by the flamboyantly dressed boxing promoter Don King.
The president-elect seemed eager to deflect blame away from Russia and its strongman president, Vladimir Putin.
“I think that computers have complicated [our] lives very greatly,” Trump said. “The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what is going on.”
Obama, in a statement seemed to yet again be speaking, in large part to his successor, saying “all Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions.”
“These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government,” Obama said, “and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior.”
On Graham, though Trump promised to discuss the matter with him, Trump also was dismissive: “I don’t know what he’s doing. I haven’t spoken to Senator Graham. As you know he ran against me.”
Sen. Mark Warner, the incoming ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, backed new sanctions against Russia and called for a bipartisan investigation into Russian cyberattacks.
“The actions the President took today are an important step, but preventing Russia from interfering in our elections will require a sustained response from the next administration and from Congress,” the Virginia Democrat said in a statement.