GOP lawmakers urge Trump to get tough on Russia

GOP lawmakers urge Trump to get tough on Russia

Eight Republican senators on Thursday urged President Trump to take a harder line on Russia, days after he made controversial comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin decried by many as un-American.

“We write to ask you to pursue a results-oriented, but tough-minded and principled policy toward the Russian Federation,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Trump.

“While we should seek common ground with Russia in the areas of mutual interest, we must never pursue cooperation with Russia at the expense of our fundamental interests of defending our allies and promoting our values.”

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Signees included Sens. Cory GardnerCory GardnerProtesters interrupt Senate Republican’s speech over healthcare Interior recommends preserving Colorado site's monument status Overnight Energy: Exxon sues feds over M fine | Deputy Interior pick advances | Oil concerns hold up Russia sanctions push MORE (Colo.), James InhofeJames InhofeMcCain absence adds to GOP agenda’s uncertainty GOP signals infrastructure bill must wait Lobbying World MORE (Okla.), Todd YoungTodd YoungIndiana Republican raises M for potential Senate bid The Hill's Whip List: Decision time on Senate ObamaCare repeal bill Senate votes to continue arming Saudis As Yemenis suffer the consequences MORE (Ind.), Rob PortmanRob PortmanOPINION | They told us to abandon ObamaCare — then came the resistance Regulatory experts push Senate leaders for regulatory reform Conservative group to give GOP healthcare holdouts ‘Freedom Traitors Award’ MORE (Ohio), Mike Rounds (S.D.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsSenate healthcare bill appears headed for failure Collins: Trump should not comment on special counsel GOP wrestles with soaring deductibles in healthcare bill MORE (Maine) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamTrump's DOJ gears up for crackdown on marijuana Business pressure ramps up against Trump's Ex-Im nominee Senators who have felt McCain's wrath talk of their respect for him MORE (S.C.).

They urged the president to take steps to counter continued Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, following the 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula, and maintain the current sanctions regime until Russia withdraws from the country.

They also pressed the president not to enter into any diplomatic or military agreements with Moscow as long as Russia supports Syrian President Bashar Assad in the ongoing conflict in that country.

Trump has said that the U.S. and Russia should cooperate to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Officials and national security experts have argued that such a proposal is fanciful, saying Russia’s primary goal is to maintain influence in the region by propping up the Assad regime.

For example, few Russian airstrikes in the region have been against ISIS targets.

“It is plainly evident that despite Russian claims to the contrary, Moscow’s main goal is not the defeat of the Islamic State, but the preservation of the Assad regime at any cost,” the lawmakers wrote Thursday, using an alternate name for the terror group.

They urged “a firm response” to Russian attempts to interfere in the U.S. elections — including “diplomatic actions, economic consequences, as well as a strengthened military posture in Europe.”

“Most importantly, we urge you to relay to Moscow that the values of democracy, human rights, transparency, and accountability are central to U.S. foreign policy, that these values are non-negotiable, and that the United States will continue to advance these values globally, including with regard to Russia."

Trump throughout the campaign and since he was inaugurated has alarmed Republicans with his warm attitude toward Russia.

Those fears turned to outrage last weekend when the president downplayed contract killings ordered by Putin.

During an interview that aired Sunday night, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly pressed Trump on the issue, saying: “But he's a killer though. Putin's a killer.”

“There are a lot of killers. We've got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?” Trump responded.

The comments drew swift condemnation from both sides of the aisle.

"It's really incredible that the president of the United States would equate the greatest nation on earth, that has the greatest record of helping people on earth, with that of Vladimir Putin, who is a butcher and a killer,” Sen. John McCainJohn McCainSenate healthcare bill appears headed for failure Trump backers eye GOP primary challenges for Flake, Heller Manchin bashes GOP candidate for pushing McCain to resign MORE (R-Ariz.) said on CNN Thursday.

The White House has attempted to soothe jangled nerves, arguing that Trump's comments were an affirmation of the president’s desire to begin a new relationship with Russia — not a statement of moral equivalency.

"Rather what the president is seeking to do is to begin anew, a relationship with the people of Russia and with their leadership to say, 'Are there ways that we can begin to work together?'” Vice President Mike PenceMike (Michael) Richard PencePence: Trump is just getting started Pence urges Republicans to 'step up to the plate' on ObamaCare Pence: I respect Sean Spicer’s decision to ‘step aside’ MORE told Fox News earlier this week.