Government funding bill includes new measures to punish Russia

Deep inside the 2,232 pages of text that...

Posted: Mar 23, 2018 6:18 PM
Updated: Mar 23, 2018 6:18 PM

Deep inside the 2,232 pages of text that make up the newly passed $1.3 trillion bill to keep the federal government open is a direct message to President Donald Trump: Russia needs to be punished.

The so-called omnibus spending bill, which the Senate passed just after midnight early Friday morning, includes measures that bar a host of federal agencies from engaging with Russia and sanctions the country for a vast series of grievances.

The bill is the latest attempt by Congress to take a harder stance on Russia than what the White House has been willing, so far, to take. Trump reluctantly signed a bill sanctioning Russia in August after both houses of Congress overwhelmingly passed the measure. The Trump administration blew through two key deadlines in the bill, though, and just this month announced new sanctions against Russia that were meant to be rolled out in January.

Rep. Eliot Engel, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee, said "with the appropriations bill, bipartisan majorities are once again sending the President tough new measures to push back on Russia and shore up our election system against future interference."

"The President continues to resist the clear intent of Congress that we want Putin to face consequences for his aggressive and illegal activities," Engel said. "It's time that the White House listens to Congress and uses the tools we've provided."

The new bill is chock full of messages to Russia.

One section bars money from funding a program that Russia participates in by stating money should "not be used for officials of the central government of Russia."

Another section punishes Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea by barring funds from going to support any countries that back the annexation, and directs Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to push Americans on certain financial boards to disallow funds from flowing to programs supportive of Russia's annexation.

In a five-page section titled "Countering Russian Influence and Aggression," appropriators flatly outlaw any federal money going to the Russian government and approves $250 million to the Countering Russian Influence Fund, a program that works for boost the "capacity of law enforcement and security forces in country in Europe and Eurasia" and looks to deepen ties to anti-Russia allies.

"None of the funds appropriated by this Act may be made available for assistance for the central Government of the Russian Federation," reads the section, which excoriates Russia for seeking to destabilize Ukraine, annexing Crimea and occupying Georgian territories like Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Multiple White House officials did not respond to CNN's request for comment on the anti-Russia language in the bill.

Massive spending bills like the one just passed by Congress often has numerous provisions and pet projects dropped in to appease certain powerful members. But the inclusion of new sanctions on Russia come at a time when lawmakers on both sides worry that Trump, whose administration has been shrouded in the ongoing inquiry into the country's meddling in the 2016 election, has failed to adequately punish the country.

Critics of Trump's handling of Russia most recently slammed the President for congratulating Putin on his reelection to another six-year term as President, an election that experts and watchers called a sham.

"Calling him wouldn't have been high on my list," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the call. Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said "an American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections."

The news that Trump congratulated Putin was compounded by the fact that, according to The Washington Post, Trump's briefing materials urged him -- in all caps -- not to congratulate the Russia leader. Trump did it anyway, and later told reporters that he applauded Putin.

Although White House aides have said Trump plans to sign the omnibus bill before the government shutdowns on Friday at midnight, Trump tweeted on Friday morning that he was considering vetoing the bill because it doesn't fully fund the border wall he has long promised.

"I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded," he wrote.

Trump, according to a White House official, is fuming about the spending bill, particularly how news reports on it are noting that his immigration priorities won't be fully funded in the agreements.

"He doesn't like it," the official said.

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