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Rep. John Duncan On Opposing New Russia Sanctions

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This week, President Trump signed a bill that places new economic sanctions on Russia. But he complained about the bill before the ink was dry. He said the bill, which also includes sanctions on Iran and North Korea, limits the president's ability to waive or ease sanctions without congressional approval, which he called unconstitutional. The measure passed almost unanimously. We're joined now by Representative John Duncan, a Republican from eastern Tennessee. He was one of just three representatives who voted against the bill.

Representative Duncan, thanks so much for being with us.

JOHN DUNCAN: Well, thank you for having me.

SIMON: And why did you vote against the bill?

DUNCAN: Well, I voted against it for several reasons. One was that I didn't think we should sanction Russia just after they had been helping us in the fight against ISIS and helped to broker a peace agreement in Syria.

SIMON: I guess I'm not familiar with that broker of peace agreement in Syria. Wait, do you mean the brief cease-fire when?

DUNCAN: Well - I mean the brief cease-fire, which is a semipeace agreement or a brief - a temporary peace agreement.

SIMON: Well, I'm not sure it's caused any appreciable reduction in the killing there, though.

DUNCAN: Well, you can argue about the success of it. But still, I think that their intention was good. And I just didn't think we should sanction them. Besides that, I have never believed that sanctions do much good anyway because they seem to hurt the poorest and most vulnerable people in a country anyway.

SIMON: Do you believe Russia tried to influence U.S. elections?

DUNCAN: Well, they may have tried, in some ways, to influence it. You know, Director Comey testified in front of the Senate intelligence committee that he had no evidence that any vote had been altered. But when (unintelligible) currently...

SIMON: But that's - I mean, the question of influence is different than altering votes. Isn't it?

DUNCAN: I think the important thing is whether any votes were changed, and Director Comey said they were not.

SIMON: Let me ask one more question. It was pointed out this week that - and this will be a short list - but at various times, President Trump criticized the prime minister of Australia; he criticized Senator John McCain; he's even criticized his own attorney general - but never Vladimir Putin. Do you share his high assessment of President Putin?

DUNCAN: I don't have real strong feelings about Putin either for or against him. I've read quite a bit about him, but I've read some things that don't sound particularly good. But I've never met the man. And I also have read, for instance, columns by Pat Buchanan that are very favorable towards Putin. And so...

SIMON: Yeah.

DUNCAN: ...You know, I guess he's like most of us. He has some good and some bad.

SIMON: But when you hear reports - good, solid reports - that President Putin has authorized the murder of some of his political opponents and journalists who have been trying to...

DUNCAN: Well, I'm certainly...

SIMON: ...Investigate...

DUNCAN: ...Not in favor that. In fact, I got my undergraduate degree, before I went to law school, in journalism. And I was a reporter on a daily newspaper years ago. And so I'm not in favor of murdering anybody. You know, I don't know all the facts behind that. If he's murdered anybody, then I'm certainly not in favor of something like that.

SIMON: Congressman John Duncan of Tennessee, thanks so much for being with us, sir.

DUNCAN: OK. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.