Trump blames Congress for abysmal Russia ties
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.
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.