Washington (CNN)In Donald Trump's administration, the President may be the only person not talking about Russian sanctions and the country's response.
Everyone's talking about Russia sanctions -- except the President
The usually loquacious Trump has been markedly mum on Russia's decision to expel hundreds of United States diplomats from the country, declining to use a series of events, his active Twitter account or his pen to respond to the action. That silence comes as the Trump administration considers when to sign bipartisan sanctions on Russia after the Senate and the House overwhelmingly approved the measures in July and sent the bill to the President's desk.
White House officials say Trump intends to sign the bill, but is currently working out legal questions regarding the sanctions before he does so. It is unclear what those legal questions may be, but the sanctions were passed with language that limit how the President can alter the penalties.
"There's nothing holding him back," press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday when asked about the delay in signing the bill. "There's a review process, a legal process. They're going through that. He'll sign the bill and we'll let you know."
Trump's silence on Russia, however, has not extended to Vice President Mike Pence, who has repeatedly assured reporters and foreign governments during his trip though Eastern Europe this week that the president will sign the stepped-up sanctions on Russia.
"In a further sign of our commitment, very soon President Trump will sign legislation to strengthen and codify sanctions against Russia," Pence said in Tbilisi, Georgia, a former Soviet state.
Pence went on to say that while the United States would like a "constructive relationship with Russia based on mutual cooperation and common interest," the United States is "unified" under the idea that lifting sanctions on Russia "will require Russia to reverse the actions that caused the sanctions to be imposed in the first place, and not before."
Later, in a conversation with reporters, Pence said the sanctions send a clear message: "We mean what we say and we say what we mean."
The fact that Pence has made the comments in Georgia is significant. The country lives in near constant fear of Russian aggression after a 2008 conflict between the two countries after Russia moved forces into South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway republics in Georgia. The conflict lasted less than a week - a ceasefire was signed on August 12 - but it looms over Georgia to this day.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also commented on the sanctions, saying Saturday that he hoped the legislation would spur Russia to seek a better relationship with Washington.
"The near unanimous votes for the sanctions legislation in Congress represent the strong will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States," Tillerson said in a statement. "We hope that there will be cooperation between our two countries on major global issues and these sanctions will no longer be necessary."
In response to the so-far unsigned sanctions, the Russian Foreign Ministry demanded Friday that the United States cut its diplomatic staff in Russia and promised to seize two American properties. The plan, which would impact the US Embassy in Moscow and consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok, would reduce diplomatic and technical staff to 455 people, the same number Russia has in the United States.
Trump has yet to weigh in on Russia's response.
"Right now we're reviewing our options and when we have something to say on it, we'll let you know," Sanders said Monday.
The delay in signing the Russian sanctions, and silence from Trump, are the latest in a long list of more muted responses to the Russian President Vladimir Putin, who the United States intelligence community said meddled in the 2016 election that saw Trump elected.
Trump and his aides have framed stories about Russia with skepticism, saying the storyline is something Democrats are pushing to question the legitimacy of Trump's presidency. Because of this, Russia has been one of the few countries spared from Trump's usually blunt talk, on Twitter and otherwise.
Since Russia's decision to expel hundreds of diplomats, Trump hasn't tweeted about Russia's move, but has slammed China's efforts to curb North Korea's missile programs.
"I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk," Trump wrote over two messages. "We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!"
The lack of response to Russia comes at the same time that White House aides have been inconsistent on how Trump feels about Russian sanctions.
Former press secretary Sean Spicer said in June that Trump was still reviewing the possible sanctions but that the administration had concerns about Congress eroding the administration's authority to determine such actions.
Anthony Scaramucci, Trump's communications director who departed the White House Monday, told CNN last month that Trump may veto the measure, a comment that was largely dismissed by Republicans on Capitol Hill.
"He may sign the sanctions exactly the way they are, or he may veto the sanctions and negotiate an even tougher deal against the Russians," Scaramucci said on CNN's "New Day," calling Trump's strategy on sanctions part of his "counterintuitive, counterpunching personality."
After the sanctions passed both the House and Senate with veto-proof majorities, White House spokespeople said Trump planned to approve the sanctions in due time.
Trump has until August 9 to sign or veto the bill, according to guidelines outlined in the Constitution that requires a bill sent to the President becomes law after 10 days, not counting Sundays.
The Constitution also gives Trump the power to pocket veto the bill, which occurs when the president does not sign the measure, but Congress is out of session. That option is unlikely: Though the House has already left Washington, the Senate will likely not will formally adjourn, making a pocket veto impossible.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker said Tuesday that despite the delay, he does not have concerns about the President signing the measure.
"I have no idea, it doesn't matter. It becomes law in 10 days, whether it's signed or not," Corker told reporters when asked why Trump hasn't signed the bill yet. "It's going to become law, and every indication that I get is they're going to sign it. Once you pass a bill, you kind of forget about it. It's not like I'm calling over there every day asking about it."