WASHINGTON — 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 cyberoperations.
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.
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.
“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.”
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 Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, another GOP member of that committee, has a message for 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 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 boxer 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.”
And on Graham, though he 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.