Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan welcomed the signing, saying it would send “a powerful message to our adversaries that they will be held accountable.”
In his statements on the sanctions law, Trump complained about what he said was congressional infringement on the president’s constitutional power to set foreign policy, saying the law reflected congressional “preferences” rather than a legal mandate.
“It is flagging those areas where the administration sees itself as having wiggle room to underenforce the law by citing claimed constitutional concerns,” said Harold Koh, a Yale Law School professor who was a legal adviser to the State Department during the Obama administration.
The House’s top Democrat, Nancy Pelosi, said the signing statement “raises serious questions about whether his administration intends to follow the law.”
Trump said he was elected partly because of his successes in business, adding, “As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.”
Trump’s signing statement was the latest in a series of mixed signals from the administration on Russia.
“I feel like there’s several policies being implemented at once, and they’re not very compatible with one another. This is one more,” said Olga Oliker, a Russia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank based in Washington.
Vice President Mike Pence, touring Baltic countries adjacent to Russia, has followed a hawkish line. Pence said Trump’s signing of the legislation would show that Congress and the president were “speaking with a unified voice” on Russia.
However, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, like Trump, has been critical of the legislation.
“The action by the Congress to put these sanctions in place and the way they did, neither the president nor I were very happy about that,” Tillerson said on Tuesday.