EDITORIAL: Russia, Trump and those pesky sanctions

York Dispatch

Is borscht on the menu at the White House now?

Is there a nice selection of vodka available?

Not for Donald Trump, of course. The president is famously more fond of cheeseburgers and Diet Coke.

President Donald Trump smiles during the State of the Union address in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018 in Washington. (Win McNamee/Pool via AP)

But the staff should be ready for guests from our close friend and ally, Russia.

Oh wait, Russia isn't an ally, is it. We're not exactly enemies, but we're not really friends, either.

Maybe someone needs to explain that to the Trump administration.

Last summer, Congress almost unanimously passed a bill requiring sanctions against Russia for meddling in the 2016 presidential election. After much bellyaching, Trump signed the bill into law in August.

More:Putin: Russia list is a hostile move driven by Trump foes

And then the administration set about not imposing the sanctions.

In October, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson eliminated the coordinator of sanctions policy, a position that was created to work with the Treasury Department to coordinate sanctions across both departments, according to Foreign Policy.

That happened just after the administration missed the Oct. 1 deadline to begin imposing sanctions on Russia's intelligence and defense sectors. 

The next step happened just this week, as the administration fulfilled one portion of the sanctions bill by releasing its "List of Oligarchs," listing 200 influential Russians including members of Russian President Vladmir Putin's administration, as well as intelligence officials and the 96 richest people in Russia, seemingly copied directly from a list in Forbes. 

One name not on that list: Putin. "What a shame!" Putin said, according to the official Tass news agency. 

And then on Tuesday it was revealed that Sergey Naryshkin, the head of Russia's foreign spy service, traveled to the U.S. to meet with top Trump administration intelligence officials. Naryshkin has been on a list of sanctioned individuals since 2014 for his work in Ukraine, meaning that he should not have been allowed to have any transactions with anyone in the U.S., much less actually being in the country himself.

Meanwhile, business as usual continues in Russia.

FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 file photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, Russia. Russian lawmakers on Friday, Dec, 15 set the presidential election for March 18, a move that formally sets in motion campaigning for a race that Putin is all but certain to win. Voter apathy is the main challenge for Putin’s strategists, who want to make his result as strong as ever to prove that public support for the Russian leader hasn’t withered 18 years after his first election (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, file)

That means continuing to interfere in U.S. elections. CIA chief Mike Pompeo told the BBC earlier this week that Russia is still trying to subvert elections in Europe and the U.S., and that he expects those efforts to continue through this year's midterm elections. 

And yet the Trump administration announced on Monday, Jan. 30, that it will not be pursuing sanctions against Russia.

The State Department said it's confident that the new legislation enacted last year is significantly deterring Russian defense sales, The Associated Press reported. Spokeswoman Heather Nauert estimates foreign governments have abandoned several billion dollars in planned or announced Russian purchases.

So other governments saw that the U.S. was going to impose sanctions against Russia and stopped business deals because they knew that was going to happen. And the fact that those deals were stopped was enough, so we don't need to impose the sanctions, right?

This isn't the kind of logic we expect from the executive branch of the government of the United States.

Congress overwhelmingly passed a law calling for sanctions. Trump signed the bill. He can't just take it back. 

The president must follow laws, even if he doesn't agree with them, even if they might jeopardize his apparent bromance with Putin. 

Democrats in Congress have raised their voices on this issue, calling on the administration to do the right thing and follow the law. 

Unfortunately, short of suing the president or impeaching him, there is little Congress and the courts can do to enforce their will on foreign policy choices.

This Congress so far has shown no appetite for calling out the president on his inappropriate behavior, but the Republicans who are in charge of the legislative branch need to take this opportunity to step up and show Trump that he has gone a step too far.

The president is not above the rule of law. If he is allowed to get away with not imposing these sanctions, the U.S. is heading down that mythical slippery slope.

It's time for Congress to impose its will on an executive branch that is out of control. If they refuse to do this, one of their primary functions in the government, it's time to vote them out.