The GOP’s Moscow Mules

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - DANA MIL­BANK Twit­ter: @Mil­bank

“What does July 4th mean to me? Free­dom,” Sen. Ron John­son chirruped on Twit­ter on Independence Day.

For the Wisconsin Repub­li­can, it meant, specif­i­cally, the free­dom to spend July 4 in Moscow with seven other Repub­li­can law­mak­ers pos­ing for pro­pa­ganda photos with Rus­sian of­fi­cials. On the same day it was re­ported in Bri­tain that two more peo­ple had been poi­soned by a Rus­sian nerve agent Bri­tish of­fi­cials say came from Vladimir Putin’s regime. On the day af­ter the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee af­firmed the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity’s con­clu­sion that Rus­sia in­ter­fered in the elec­tion to help Don­ald Trump.

John­son and his col­leagues ap­par­ently ex­er­cised their free­dom not to meet with op­po­si­tion or civil so­ci­ety fig­ures (those whom the Putin regime has not im­pris­oned or killed), avoid­ing the risk of of­fend­ing their hosts. They also ex­er­cised their free­dom to soft-pedal their crit­i­cism of the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment, lead­ing Rus­sian politi­cians and state me­dia to mock them as sup­pli­cants.

Yet de­spite this lav­ish dis­play of the free­dom to kow­tow, they didn’t get the meet­ing they hoped for with Putin him­self. He was busy, the Krem­lin said.

There was a time, in the pre-Trump era, when Repub­li­cans would have erupted in fire­works over an Independence Day visit by sub­mis­sive Amer­i­can law­mak­ers to the coun­try the 2012 Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee called “our num­ber one geopo­lit­i­cal foe.” (Re­la­tions have wors­ened con­sid­er­ably since then.) They called Jane Fonda “Hanoi Jane” and a traitor when she went to North Viet­nam in 1972. Af­ter Democrats vis­ited Iraq in 2002, Repub­li­cans ridiculed them as “Baghdad boys.”

So, what do we call these Red Square Repub­li­cans? My in­ter­locu­tors on Twit­ter sug­gest “Moscow Mules.” Or, given the po­si­tion they put them­selves in be­fore our mas­ters in Moscow, per­haps they should be called the Pros­trate Eight: Sens. Richard C. Shelby (Ala.), Steve Daines (Mont.), John Ho­even (N.D.), John Neely Kennedy (La.), Jerry Mo­ran (Kan.), John Thune (S.D.) and John­son, plus Rep. Kay Granger (Tex.).

Their ex­cel­lent ad­ven­ture in­cluded a bal­let per­for­mance of “Sleep­ing Beauty,” and fairy-tale no­tions per­vaded their of­fi­cial meet­ings, too. “I’m not here to­day to ac­cuse Rus­sia of this or that or so forth,” Shelby told Duma Speaker Vy­ach­eslav Volodin. “I’m say­ing that we should all strive for a bet­ter re­la­tion­ship.”

Yes, let us strive for ca­ma­raderie with a gov­ern­ment that at­tacks us with cy­ber­war­fare, med­dles in our elec­tions, de­nies en­try to Amer­i­can of­fi­cials who are crit­i­cal of Moscow, desta­bi­lizes Europe and the Mid­dle East, kills crit­ics at home and abroad, oc­cu­pies its neigh­bors’ land and shoots down the oc­ca­sional pas­sen­ger jet. Or, as Shelby put it, “this, that or so forth.”

One can hardly wait to see the law­mak­ers’ next codel: meet­ing with wounded Tal­iban fight­ers on Vet­er­ans Day? A Memo­rial Day wreath-lay­ing for fallen mem­bers of Sad­dam Hus­sein’s Repub­li­can Guard? Flag Day at a street protest in Tehran?

Soon they’ll be meet­ing with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and prais­ing him as tal­ented, hon­est and trust­wor­thy. Oh, wait.

“I asked our friends in Rus­sia not to in­ter­fere in our elec­tions this year,” one of the Moscow Mules, Kennedy, said af­ter their meet­ings. “I asked them to exit Ukraine and al­low Ukraine to self­de­ter­mine. I asked for the same thing in Crimea. I asked for their help in bring­ing peace to Syria. And I asked them not to al­low Iran to gain a foothold in Syria.”

Ap­par­ently he didn’t say “pretty please with a cherry on top,” be­cause the Rus­sians were dis­mis­sive of the Amer­i­cans’ plead­ing.

Duma mem­ber Vy­ach­eslav Nikonov said that of the many meet­ings he has had with Amer­i­can law­mak­ers, this “was one of the eas­i­est ones in my life,” The Post’s An­ton Troianovski re­ports.

The Post’s Karoun Demir­jian re­ports that state tele­vi­sion in Rus­sia mocked the meek Amer­i­cans. One Rus­sian mil­i­tary ex­pert said, “We need to look down at them and say: You came be­cause you needed to, not be­cause we did.”

Sergey Kislyak, Rus­sian leg­is­la­tor and for­mer am­bas­sador to Wash­ing­ton, dis­missed the Pros­trate Eight’s mes­sage as “things we’d heard be­fore,” and said “our guests heard rather clearly and dis­tinctly” Rus­sia’s de­nial that it in­ter­fered in U.S. elec­tions.

They hardly needed to go to Moscow for that, though, be­cause Trump him­self tweeted last week: “Rus­sia con­tin­ues to say they had noth­ing to do with Med­dling in our Elec­tion!”

This came af­ter Trump pushed for Rus­sia to be read­mit­ted to the Group of Seven, and in ad­vance of the July 16 Putin-Trump meet­ing in Helsinki that an Esquire writer called Trump’s “an­nual per­for­mance re­view.”

“Happy 4th of July!” Shelby, leader of the Moscow Mules, tweeted from Rus­sia. “We are the land of the free be­cause of the brave.”

And what is more coura­geous than vis­it­ing your foe on the Fourth of July and shrink­ing from ac­cu­sa­tions of this or that or so forth?

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