It appears that President Trump just blocked his own administration’s plan to sanction Russia.
Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, announced Sunday that the Trump administration was going to hit Russia with new sanctions on Monday over its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program in the wake of the April 7 chemical attack in Douma, Syria, that killed dozens of people. The sanctions were explicitly focused on Russian companies that deal in equipment linked to Assad’s chemical weapons program.
But just a day later, the White House backtracked, with the press secretary saying that the administration was merely “considering additional sanctions on Russia” and that “a decision will be made in the near future.”
So why the awkward reversal? Apparently President Trump wasn’t on board with sanctioning Russia.
According to the Washington Post, after Haley announced the sanctions on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday morning, Trump told national security advisers he was “upset the sanctions were being officially rolled out because he was not yet comfortable executing them.”
It unclear whether Haley just mistakenly announced the sanctions prematurely before the president had officially signed off on them, or if something else entirely went wrong.
But two things are obvious: The administration is once again botching the rollout of a fairly straightforward policy, and Trump is personally taking steps to ensure that he doesn’t anger Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A Russian foreign ministry official said on Monday that the Trump administration contacted the Russian embassy on Sunday and told them that the sanctions that Haley had mentioned were not actually coming.
Trump is constantly fighting his own administration on Russia
Democrats swiftly panned the White House for backtracking. “The reversal is astounding. Either Pres. Trump doesn’t think we need more action or they can’t handle a simple rollout announcement,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) tweeted Monday afternoon. “Mr. President, get your act together. What’s the strategy?”
But there are signs that Trump’s decision to hold off on sanctioning Russia might be paying off. On Monday, Russia announced that it was delaying a parliamentary vote on a plan to restrict American imports.
This isn’t the first time Trump has seemed to be at odds with or out of touch with the way the rest of his administration is handling Russia policy. Trump was reportedly furious about the way his administration ended up expelling 60 Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal on British soil on March 4.
Trump had apparently thought that the US was matching the number of diplomats that other US allies were expelling, but it turned out that the US’s expulsion dwarfed the numbers of any other country.
When administration officials explained to him that the US was matching the total number of expulsions from all the other countries combined, Trump apparently exploded and said he thought he had been misled.
“There were curse words,” an administration official told the Washington Post. “A lot of curse words.”