The Loneliness of Trump on Russia: Has a President Ever Stood So Opposed to a Political Consensus?

President Donald Trump is outstandingly alone on the foreign policy issue of Russia, particularly on Putin’s interference in the 2016 election (although he seems to have walked back on that one). Almost every elected official is at odds with him as is his administration on how we should proceed with Russia. In spite of his protestations, there were only three members of the House and two members of the Senate who supported his position in opposition to a measure upping sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea. Trump objected to the Russia inclusion while Bernie Sanders opposed the Iran part of the measure. The other senator was Rand Paul, who also happened to be the only elected official who praised Trump on his performance in the joint press conference with Vladimir Putin. I had difficulty thinking of an instance in which a president stood as alone on a foreign policy issue, but there was a minor one that occurred over Saudi Arabia only two years ago.

In 2016, Congress passed a highly popular bill, Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, that allowed families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue the government of Saudi Arabia if it turned out there were people in the government who were involved in the attacks. The Obama Administration feared harming relations with Saudi Arabia and potentially exposing the US to similar lawsuits, thus Barack Obama vetoed the measure. The House overrode on a 348-77 vote, while the Senate overrode 97-1, with the Administration’s only supporter in that chamber being Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). This was the one and only time President Obama’s veto was overridden. There are some differences between these dissents.

First, Obama had some party crossover in support of his position, as eighteen House Republicans voted against the veto override. Trump had zero Democratic support for his position, unless you count Bernie Sanders, who is technically an Independent and only voted against the measure due to the Iran sanctions. Second, Trump is actively disagreeing with conclusions reached by intelligence experts including CIA chief Dan Coats, while Obama’s disagreements lay in foreign policy calculation. Third, Obama got significantly more support from his party for his position on 9/11 families than Trump on Russian sanctions. Fourth, the Russia issue is ongoing due to its government’s interference in our elections and questions surrounding Trump and his campaign’s relations with Russia. The 9/11 measure may be ongoing should further evidence arise regarding officials in the Saudi Arabia government. There have been other instances in which presidents have taken unpopular foreign policy positions: both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan had the majority of their parties in the House to oppose foreign sales. In Carter’s case, it was low enriched uranium to India in 1980, which was disapproved in the House 298-97 (D 180-67, R 118-30). After intense lobbying by the Carter Administration, the Senate rejected the disapproval resolution 46-48 (D 23-31, R 22-17, I 1-0), this time earning the support of a majority of his party. In Reagan’s case, it was the sale of Airborne Warning Control System (AWACS) Radar Planes along with other weaponry to Saudi Arabia in 1981. The House disapproved 301-111 (D 192-33, R 108-78, I 1-0). The Reagan Administration intensely lobbied the Senate, and received the same result as the Carter Administration, with the Senate defeating the resolution 48-52 (R 12-41, D 36-10, I 0-1). Reagan also opposed South Africa sanctions in 1986 for apartheid as he wanted to continue the policy of “constructive engagement”, and his veto was overridden by the House and Senate, with majorities of Republicans in both chambers bucking the administration.

While a president opposing both parties on a foreign policy issue is not unprecedented, the extent of the difference certainly appears to be.

References

Kim, S.M. (2016, September 28). Congress hands Obama first veto override. Politico.

Retrieved from https://www.politico.com/story/2016/09/senate-jasta-228841

“S. 2040: Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act.” Govtrack.

Retrieved from

https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/114-2016/s148

“S. 2040: Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act.” Govtrack.

Retrieved from

https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/114-2016/h564

“To Agree to H. Con. Res. 194, The Resolution Disapproving the Sale to Saudi Arabia of Airborne Warning Control Systems (AWACS) Radar Planes, Conformal Fuel Tanks for F-15 Aircraft, AIM-9L Sidewinder Missiles and KC-707 Aerial Refueling Aircraft.” Govtrack.

Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/97-1981/h243

“To Agree to H. Con. Res. 194, The Resolution Disapproving the Sale to Saudi Arabia of Airborne Warning Control Systems (AWACS) Radar Planes, Conformal Fuel Tanks for F-15 Aircraft, AIM-9L Sidewinder Missiles and KC-707 Aerial Refueling Aircraft.” Govtrack.

Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/97-1981/s338

“To Agree to H. Con. Res. 367, Disapproving the Proposed Export to India of Uranium for the Tarapur Atomic Power Station Pursuant to Export License Application XSNM 1569.” Govtrack.

Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/96-1980/h1164

“To Agree to H. Con. Res. 432, Disapproving the Proposed Export of Low Enriched Uranium to India.” Govtrack.

Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/96-1980/s948

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