By Jeremy Herb - 05/19/12 05:45 PM EDT
Democrats are crying foul over GOP suggestions that President Obama has a “secret deal” on missile defense with Russia.
The fight began in March, when a hot mic at a summit caught Obama telling then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he’d have more “flexibility” on the issue after the election. Medvedev famously responded that he would transmit that information to Vladimir Putin, who is now Russia's president.
No one in Congress has been more vocal about Obama’s comments than Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), who chairs the Armed Services subcommittee that deals with missile defense.
Turner mentioned a secret deal seven times during the committee mark-up of the Defense bill last week, and he took up the same line of criticism on the House floor Thursday.
“The issue of the president’s secret deal with the Russians is not really one that’s open to interpretation,” Turner said. “When we ask what are the terms of this deal, Mr. President, the terms that you won’t let the American public see, he says nothing.”
But Democrats say the GOP is manufacturing a campaign issue out of the Obama comments to Medvedev, and House Armed Services ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) got into a testy exchange with Turner on the floor late Thursday.
“I must complement Mr. Turner, he obviously went to an excellent propaganda school,” Smith said.
“If you keep saying something over and over and over again even though there’s not a shred of evidence to support it, eventually people will believe there might actually be something there,” Smith said.
Turner says that Obama “has declined to tell us” what he meant in his comments to Medvedev. But the White House has in fact responded to Turner’s request for more information.
White House Legislative Affairs Director Rob Nabors sent Turner a letter in April responding to the congressman, who had asked for an explanation of Obama’s hot mic comments. “It is no secret that this effort will be more complicated during election years in both the United States and Russia,” Nabors wrote in the letter obtained by The Hill.
“Given this, President Obama and President Medvedev have instructed their technical experts to continue working in 2012 to better understand each other’s positions and lay a foundation for progress in the future,” he wrote.
Nabors said that the Obama administration has been clear “that we will not agree to any constraints limiting the development or deployment of United States missile defense.”
Turner acknowledged the letter, but he said in a statement to The Hill that the president still has not provided any details about deals the administration is offering to the Russians.
“We still do not know the terms of the president’s secret deal with the Russians,” Turner said. “What does he mean that he will have greater ‘flexibility’ past his ‘last election?’ The White House has never made clear what deals it has been offering to the Russians, despite requests for such information by myself and my colleagues.”
The Defense authorization bill that passed the House on Friday included a number of provisions to increase U.S. missile defense funding, including a new East Coast missile defense site and money for new nuclear production facilities.
Republicans have frequently criticized Obama on missile defense for agreeing to the New START treaty with Russia to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The attacks amplified in March after Obama’s comments to Medvedev.
“This is my last election,” Obama told the Russian leader, unaware that his remarks were being picked up. “After my election, I have more flexibility.”
Republicans immediately jumped on the remarks, and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney said: “The American people have a right to know where else he plans to be 'flexible' in a second term.”
Turner has warned that the Obama administration is planning to cut missile defense funding, and that proposals like the East Coast site are pushing back against potential reductions.
Democrats have responded that the focus on Obama’s secret deal comments only reinforces Obama’s point that he has little room to maneuver in the middle of an election year.
“It’s absolutely clear-cut that all the president was saying was that during an election year that an issue like this would be subject to demagoguery — precisely like this — and would be difficult to do,” Smith said Thursday.