Obama criticizes Trump's 'flattery' of Putin

President Obama on Tuesday criticized Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump pushes back on recent polling data, says internal numbers are 'strongest we've had so far' Illinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump MORE’s “flattery” of Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling it an unprecedented development in American politics.

“Mr. Trump’s continued flattery of Mr. Putin and the degree to which he appears to model his policies and approach to politics on Mr. Putin’s is unprecedented in American politics,” Obama said during a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in the White House Rose Garden.  

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The president also sought to tie Republican supporters of Trump, the GOP presidential nominee, to his embrace of Putin, saying that his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters FEC chair calls on Trump to provide evidence of NH voter fraud Five years after Yazidi genocide, US warns ISIS is rebounding MORE, had previously taken a tougher line against the Russian leader before he was added to the ticket. 

“Mr. Trump rarely surprises me these days,” Obama said. “I’m much more surprised and troubled by the fact you have Republican officials who historically have been adamantly anti-Russian, and have in fact attacked me for engaging with them diplomatically, now in some cases are supporting or echoing his position." 

“It’s quite a reversal,” he added. “You’ll have to ask them how to explain it.” 

Obama and Democrats have sought to use Trump’s friendly overtures to Putin against him, painting him as a friend of one of the U.S.’s biggest geopolitical foes. 

Trump this week suggested he would meet with Putin before he was sworn in and criticized his Democratic opponent, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTop Sanders adviser: Warren isn't competing for 'same pool of voters' Anti-Trump vets join Steyer group in pressing Democrats to impeach Trump Republicans plot comeback in New Jersey MORE, for being too “tough” on the Russian leader. 

Obama defended his administration’s handling of Russia, saying he and his former secretary of State sought better relations with Moscow at the outset of his term. 

But the two countries’ differences over the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, and other international issues, have become too big to ignore. 

“Any characterization that we have somehow improperly challenged Russian aggression or have somehow tried to encroach on their legit interests is just wrong,” the president said.