Bewildered Senate Republicans Hit Back At Trump For Russia Blame

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One day after signing a bill imposing new sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea, President Donald Trump lashed out at his own party in one of his signature morning tweetstorms, blaming Republican members of Congress for the deteriorating relations between Russia and the United States.

The accusation follows several messages from Russian officials needling Trump after he signed the sanctions bill, messages seemingly tailor-made to get under his skin.

On Capitol Hill on Thursday, senators were confused and irritated at the president’s finger-pointing, noting that the sanctions bill passed by a large, veto-proof margin on a bipartisan basis and was signed by President Trump himself. Republican lawmakers stressed to TPM that it was the Russian actions that inspired the sanctions, not the sanctions themselves, that are to blame.

“We have bad relations with Russia because they’ve done bad things,” emphasized Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC). “What we’re trying to do is put pressure on a nation that has interfered with our elections, that is trying to relive the Soviet Union days, and it’s absolutely appropriate for a co-equal branch of Congress to make it very clear that the American people we represent think that Russia needs to be held in check. The president rightful takes the lead on the issue, but that’s not to the exclusion of us asserting our own position on Russia and their bad actions.”

Defending the steps Congress took last week, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) said Russia’s meddling in other nations as well as the U.S. spurred them to act. “The fact that it refuses to get out of Ukraine. The fact that it violated any number of international norms with its behavior and cyberattacks—plain and simple,” he said.

Even lawmakers who usually defend the president, such as Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), hit back Thursday over the Russia blame. “I think our strained relationship with Russia started in 1917, didn’t it? With the Communist Revolution?” Shelby quipped to reporters. “It’s ebbed and flowed since, but I don’t see how it’s Congress’ fault.”

“It’s completely Putin’s fault,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) added.

If Trump thought the legislation was so damaging to international relations, several senators wondered, why didn’t he veto the bill when it came to his desk?

“I think he signed it, didn’t he? “Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) told TPM with a smile when asked about the president’s tweet. His grin fading, he added more soberly: “The bottom line is that Russia is to blame with for the relations with Russia deteriorating.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.

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