Trump blames Congress for abysmal Rus­sia ties

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Thurs­day lashed out at Congress for the coun­try’s de­te­ri­o­rat­ing re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia, which he char­ac­ter­ized in a morn­ing tweet as “at an all-time & very dan­ger­ous low.”

“You can thank Congress, the same peo­ple that can’t even give us HCare!” the pres­i­dent said, re­fer­ring to the fail­ure of the Se­nate to pass leg­is­la­tion over­haul­ing the Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion and Af­ford­able Care Act, a long-term GOP pri­or­ity and mar­quee Trump cam­paign prom­ise.

The pres­i­dent’s as­sess­ment came a day af­ter he be­grudg­ingly signed leg­is­la­tion, passed by over­whelm­ing ma­jori­ties in the House and Se­nate, that im­poses new sanc­tions on Rus­sia and places re­stric­tions on his abil­ity to roll back mea­sures al­ready in place.

In a state­ment Wed­nes­day, Trump crit­i­cized the bill he signed as “se­ri­ously flawed,” ar­gu­ing that it en­croaches on his pow­ers as pres­i­dent. Trump also said he had “built a great com­pany worth many bil­lions of dol­lars” and as­serted that he “can make far bet­ter deals with for­eign coun­tries than Congress.”

Law­mak­ers from both par­ties pushed back against Trump’s tweet Thurs­day. Those in­cluded Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chair­man of the For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, who pinned blame for the cur­rent U.S.-Rus­sia re­la­tion­ship “solely” on Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

“I know there’s some frus­tra­tion. I get it,” Corker said, speak­ing of the sanc­tions bill. “We acted in the coun­try’s na­tional in­ter­est in do­ing this. Putin through his ac­tions is the one who has taken this re­la­tion­ship back to lev­els we haven’t seen since 1991.”

Those ac­tiv­i­ties, Corker said, in­clude “an af­front to the Amer­i­can peo­ple” by med­dling in last year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Law­mak­ers’ sol­i­dar­ity in ty­ing Trump’s hands on Rus­sian sanc­tions re­flects a deep­en­ing con­cern about the White House’s pos­ture to­ward Moscow, which crit­ics have char­ac­ter­ized as naive.

The new Rus­sia sanc­tions ex­pand on mea­sures taken by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion to pun­ish the Krem­lin for its al­leged ef­forts to in­ter­fere in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. But Trump has con­tin­ued to cast doubt that Rus­sia alone was re­spon­si­ble, and he has called the in­ves­ti­ga­tions of the mat­ter by Congress and by a spe­cial coun­sel a “witch hunt.”

Rus­sia this week re­acted to Congress’ pas­sage of the sanc­tions bill — as well as the ear­lier Obama-im­posed mea­sures — by an­nounc­ing that it would or­der the U.S. Em­bassy there to re­duce its staff by 755 peo­ple and would seize U.S. diplo­matic prop­er­ties.

Rus­sian Prime Min­is­ter

Dmitry Medvedev crit­i­cized Trump on Wed­nes­day for sign­ing the bill.

“The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has shown its to­tal weak­ness by hand­ing over ex­ec­u­tive power to Congress in the most hu­mil­i­at­ing way,” he tweeted.

Trump has sought to build a re­la­tion­ship with Putin, re­peat­edly as­sert­ing that the United States and Rus­sia have shared in­ter­ests.

Dur­ing the Group of 20 sum­mit in Ger­many last month, the two lead­ers held a much-pub­li­cized meet­ing that ran more than two hours — far longer than sched­uled — and chat­ted in­for­mally for up to an ad­di­tional hour later the same day dur­ing a din­ner for G-20 lead­ers.

SEN­A­TORS WEIGH IN

Thurs­day’s tweet comes at a time of fray­ing re­la­tion­ships be­tween Trump and Se­nate Repub­li­cans.

GOP sen­a­tors have sought to dis­tance them­selves from the pres­i­dent since he has be­lit­tled them as look­ing like “fools” in their quest to roll back Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health care law. The fail­ure was the re­sult of Repub­li­can de­fec­tions.

Repub­li­cans also have de­fended At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, the for­mer Alabama GOP sen­a­tor, against Trump crit­i­cism and threats of fir­ing him and have pro­posed bi­par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion that would pro­tect spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller, who is in charge of the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, from be­ing dis­missed by Trump.

Other law­mak­ers weigh­ing in Thurs­day on Trump’s tweet in­cluded, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who read it off a re­porter’s phone. “Huh. Well. It is what it is,” he said.

Asked whether he agreed with the pres­i­dent, Flake said: “Congress’ fault? I don’t think so.”

Tweet­ing, Flake’s Repub­li­can col­league from Ari­zona, Sen. John McCain, a strong sup­porter of the sanc­tions bill, con­ceded that “our re­la­tion­ship w/ Rus­sia is at dan­ger­ous low.” But, he con­tin­ued, “You can thank Putin for at­tack­ing our democ­racy, in­vad­ing neigh­bors & threat­en­ing our al­lies.”

Sim­i­larly, Sen. Su­san Collins, a mod­er­ate Repub­li­can from Maine, said the fric­tion with Rus­sia is be­cause of its ac­tions in Ukraine and Syria and its elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence.

“So that’s the rea­son we’re at a bad point with Rus­sia, be­cause of Rus­sia’s egre­gious be­hav­ior,” Collins said.

One sen­a­tor, Richard Shelby of Alabama, dated the two na­tions’ eroded re­la­tion­ship from pre-Putin days.

“I think that started in 1917, didn’t it?” said Shelby, re­fer­ring to the Rus­sian Rev­o­lu­tion, which led to com­mu­nist rule. “It’s ebbed and flowed since, but I don’t see how it’s Congress’ fault.”

Democrats were also crit­i­cal of the pres­i­dent’s tweet Thurs­day.

“That shows a con­tin­u­ing lack of un­der­stand­ing by the pres­i­dent of what hap­pened,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who ear­lier tweeted that the blame for the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing U.S.-Rus­sian re­la­tion­ship rests with Putin.

Michael Ben­net, D-Colo., re­spond­ing to Trump’s tweet, said suc­cinctly, “That is ridicu­lous.” In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by John Wag­ner, Abby Phillip and Sean Sul­li­van of The Wash­ing­ton Post; by Eileen Sul­li­van of The New York

Times; and by Alan Fram of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

AP/EVAN VUCCI

Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Sec­re­tary David Shulkin stands with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump as Trump talks with a pa­tient dur­ing a Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Depart­ment “tele­health” event Thurs­day at the White House. Trump on Thurs­day crit­i­cized Congress over sanc­tions against Rus­sia and the fail­ure to re­peal and re­place the 2010 health care law.

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