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 Scott GardnerMcConnell calls for Senate hearings on Russia sanctions GOP seeks separation from Trump on Russia Republican bill aims to deter NATO members from using Russian pipeline MORE (Colo.), James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeTrump’s policies, actions create divide on Russia New EPA chief draws sharp contrast to Pruitt Senate takes symbolic shot at Trump tariffs MORE (Okla.), Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungBipartisan group introduces retirement savings legislation in Senate GOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border The Hill's Morning Report — Trump: `A very great moment in the history of the world’ MORE (Ind.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Bipartisan bill would bring needed funds to deteriorating National Park Service infrastructure The Memo: Trump allies hope he can turn the page from Russian fiasco MORE (Ohio), Mike Rounds (S.D.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report — Russia furor grips Washington Overnight Health Care: Novartis pulls back on drug price hikes | House Dems launch Medicare for All caucus | Trump officials pushing ahead on Medicaid work requirements Senate panel to vote next week on banning 'gag clauses' in pharmacy contracts MORE (Maine) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOvernight Defense: Trump inviting Putin to DC | Senate to vote Monday on VA pick | Graham open to US-Russia military coordination in Syria Polling analyst: Changes to legal immigration ‘the real sticking point among Democrats’ Graham would consider US-Russia military coordination in Syria 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 Sidney McCainControversial Trump judicial nominee withdraws Trump vows to hold second meeting with Putin Ex-Montenegro leader fires back at Trump: ‘Strangest president' in history 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 PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceElection Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas Lewandowski: Trump-Putin meeting advances goal of world peace Indiana has spent over million on cleanup of failed Pence family gas stations: report MORE told Fox News earlier this week.