Obama’s mic chat caught Boehner’s ear

Speaker wants an­swers about Rus­sian pol­icy

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY SU­SAN CRAB­TREE

With Pres­i­dent Obama back in the U.S. af­ter his trip to South Korea, Speaker John A. Boehner sent him a let­ter de­mand­ing an­swers about com­ments he made to the pres­i­dent of Rus­sia ear­lier this week that were caught on a hot mic.

In the lengthy let­ter, Mr. Boehner said he was par­tic­u­larly alarmed about the mes­sage Mr. Obama’s com­ments sent to in­com­ing Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

“I and other mem­bers of the House have pre­vi­ously expressed con­cern about your ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­par­ent will­ing­ness to make uni­lat­eral con­ces­sions to Rus­sia that un­der­mine our mis­sile de­fense ca­pa­bil­i­ties,” the Ohio Re­pub­li­can wrote. “Your com­ments re­in­force these wor­ries.”

On Mon­day at the Nu­clear Se­cu­rity Sum­mit in Seoul, Mr. Obama leaned over and whis­pered to out­go­ing Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Dmitry Medvedev that he would have “more flex­i­bil­ity” to deal with con­tro­ver­sial is­sues such as mis­sile de­fense af­ter the 2012 elec­tions, and said Mr. Putin needs to give him some “space” when he takes of­fice in May.

Re­pub­li­can pres­i­den­tial con­tender Mitt Rom­ney seized on the re­marks, ar­gu­ing that Rus­sia is “with­out ques­tion our No. 1 foe.”

“They fight ev­ery cause for the world’s worst ac­tors,” he said. “The idea that he has more flex­i­bil­ity in mind for Rus­sia is very, very trou­bling in­deed.”

Mr. Boehner raised sim­i­lar con­cerns and re­minded the pres­i­dent that the House passed leg­is­la­tion pro­hibit­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion from mak­ing any agree­ments to di­min­ish U.S. mis­silede­fense ca­pac­ity with­out con­gres­sional au­thor­ity or treaty.

“The Rus­sian gov­ern­ment has not lived up to its obli­ga­tions to sup­port the world com­mu­nity in rein­ing in the rogue na­tions of Iran, Syria, and North Korea,” he wrote. “On the con­trary, Rus­sia has at times of­fered sup­port for these dan­ger­ous regimes. And it is in­creas­ingly ev­i­dent that Rus­sia is in­tent on ex­pand­ing its boundaries through hos­tile acts — in­clud­ing in­vad­ing a neigh­bor­ing Amer­i­can ally.”

Mr. Obama ad­dressed the is­sue at the sum­mit and at­tempted to clar­ify his re­marks.

“Arms con­trol is ex­traor­di­nar­ily com­plex, very tech­ni­cal, and the only way it gets done is if you can con­sult and build a strong un­der­stand­ing, both be­tween coun­tries and within coun­tries,” he said. “I don’t think it’s any sur­prise that you can’t start that a few months be­fore pres­i­den­tial and con­gres­sional elec­tions in the United States, and at a time when they just com­pleted elec­tions in Rus­sia. . . . The only way I get this stuff done is if I’m con­sult­ing with the Pen­tagon, with Congress, if I’ve got bi­par­ti­san sup­port and frankly, the cur­rent en­vi­ron­ment is not con­ducive to those kinds of thought­ful con­sul­ta­tions.”

But Mr. Boehner said the ex­pla­na­tion gave him lit­tle so­lace, ar­gu­ing that the pres­i­dent con­flated the is­sue of mis­sile de­fense with the sep­a­rate mat­ter of Rus­sia’s nu­clear weapons pro­gram.

“I ask that you ex­plain what greater ‘flex­i­bil­ity’ on mis­sile de­fense you were sug­gest­ing Mr. Putin could ex­pect in a sec­ond term,” he wrote. “With Congress’ expressed in­ter­est in this mat­ter and Amer­ica’s ob­jec­tive of pre­vent­ing rogue states from launch­ing mis­sile strikes, it is im­por­tant to know what changes you are con­tem­plat­ing or of­fer­ing. Fur­ther, what ac­tions does your ad­min­is­tra­tion be­lieve the Rus­sians have taken that war­rant any change in our mis­sile de­fense pol­icy?”

Mr. Boehner con­cluded the let­ter by de­mand­ing Mr. Obama clar­ify what he meant or re­port any planned con­ces­sions to Rus­sia on mis­sile de­fense to the ap­pro­pri­ate con­gres­sional com­mit­tees.

“A mis­guided mis­sile de­fense pol­icy would have far-reach­ing con­se­quences, and any con­ces­sions you may have un­der con­sid­er­a­tion re­quire an open and thor­ough jus­ti­fi­ca­tion,” he con­tin­ued. “A post-elec­tion sur­prise on this crit­i­cal is­sue would not be wel­comed by the Amer­i­can peo­ple, the Congress, or the world com­mu­nity.”

Ear­lier this week, Mr. Boehner re­frained from join­ing fel­low Repub­li­cans in crit­i­ciz­ing Mr. Obama over the hot mic com­ments.

“When the pres­i­dent is over­seas,” Mr. Boehner told re­porters, “I think it’s ap­pro­pri­ate that peo­ple not be crit­i­cal of him or our coun­try.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Obama’s com­ment to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Dmitry Medvedev that he would have “more flex­i­bil­ity” about is­sues such as mis­sile de­fense af­ter the elec­tion raised alarm in Re­pub­li­can cir­cles. House Speaker John A. Boehner wants an­swers.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

House Nat­u­ral Re­sources Com­mit­tee Chair­man Rep. Doc Hast­ings said Wed­nes­day the White House is hin­der­ing his panel’s probes.

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