Political News

Some Republicans Rebuke Trump for Siding With Putin, but Others Remain Silent

Posted July 16, 2018 3:30 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — Republicans across the ideological spectrum delivered pointed rebukes to President Donald Trump after Monday’s extraordinary news conference with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, with House Speaker Paul Ryan admonishing Trump and declaring, “There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia.”

Ryan, R-Wis., was joined by other Republicans whose reactions ranged from silence to disappointment to shock at the way Trump publicly dismissed the conclusions of his own national intelligence director that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, blamed both the United States and Russia for poor relations between the two countries, and seemingly invited Russia to cooperate with the investigation being led by Robert Mueller, the special counsel.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., released a statement calling Trump’s appearance “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

“It is tempting to describe the news conference as a pathetic rout — as an illustration of the perils of under-preparation and inexperience,” said McCain, who is battling brain cancer. “But these were not the errant tweets of a novice politician. These were the deliberate choices of a president who seems determined to realize his delusions of a warm relationship with Putin’s regime without any regard for the true nature of his rule, his violent disregard for the sovereignty of his neighbors, his complicity in the slaughter of the Syrian people, his violation of international treaties, and his assault on democratic institutions throughout the world.”

McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, concluded: “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant. Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are — a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad.”

His fellow Republican senator from Arizona, Jeff Flake, released his own rebuke: “I never thought that I would see the day when our American president would stand on the stage with the Russian president and place blame on the United States for aggression. This is shameful.”

But no Republican in Congress pledged any particular action to punish Trump, such as holding up his nominees, nor did they promise hearings or increased oversight.

It was left to the Democrats to deliver the harshest messages.

“In the entire history of our country, Americans have never seen a president of the United States support an American adversary the way President Trump has supported President Putin,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader, said in a statement. He added: “A single, ominous question now hangs over the White House: What could possibly cause President Trump to put the interests of Russia over those of the United States? Millions of Americans will continue to wonder if the only possible explanation for this dangerous behavior is the possibility that President Putin holds damaging information over President Trump.”

Schumer’s counterpart, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, had no immediate response.

Still, even for Republicans used to dodging comment on the president’s outbursts, Trump’s performance in Helsinki was difficult to ignore. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the retiring chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that he “did not think this was a good moment for our country.”

It was, he added, a very good moment for Putin.

“It was almost an approval, if you will, a public approval by the greatest nation on earth toward him,” Corker told reporters. “I’d guess he’s having caviar right now.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., criticized the equating of U.S. actions with Russia’s.

“This is bizarre and flat-out wrong,” he wrote in a statement. “The United States is not to blame. America wants a good relationship with the Russian people but Vladimir Putin and his thugs are responsible for Soviet-style aggression. When the president plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs.”

In the House, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., former chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said in an interview that it was “totally wrong” for the president to suggest “moral equivalency between the United States and Russia.” King, a strong voice on intelligence matters, said he was “disappointed” though “not flabbergasted” by the president’s comments.

And as to Trump’s declaration that Russia should cooperate with Mueller’s investigation, King said, “It would be like bringing ISIS into a joint terrorism task force,” using an alternative name for the Islamic State group. In his far more carefully worded statement, Ryan did not mention Trump by name. But it was clear that he intended to send a signal that he was troubled by the president’s remarks at the morning news conference in Finland.

“There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world. That is not just the finding of the American intelligence community but also the House Committee on Intelligence. The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals. The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy.”

Democrats were not so circumspect. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., called Trump’s performance a “national embarrassment.”

John Brennan, who served as the CIA director under President Barack Obama, said on Twitter that the news conference was an impeachable offense: “Donald Trump’s news conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???”