House conservatives criticize media, not Trump, for Putin furor

Top conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus are defending President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republican threatens to push for Rosenstein impeachment unless he testifies Judge suggests Trump’s tweet about Stormy Daniels was ‘hyperbole’ not defamation Rosenstein faces Trump showdown MORE’s performance at the Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Members of the group applauded the president's diplomatic efforts, arguing the media has placed too much focus on his remarks at a post-summit press conference with Putin and not enough on his actions.

“I think the good news is there was a summit,” Rep. Warren DavidsonWarren Earl DavidsonOn The Money: 0B more in Trump tariffs kick in | China calls off trade talks | CEO confidence slips over tariffs | GOP to move spending bill over Trump concerns | Behind the scenes look at how the GOP tax law passed GOP set to move 4B spending bill despite Trump criticisms Freedom Caucus ponders weakened future in minority MORE (R-Ohio) said at a press conference. “I think it was good for the president to be engaged in diplomacy, this is consistent with efforts under George W. Bush and Barrack Obama.”

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“The reality is people are upset about what President Trump has said but they’re not giving him credit for what he’s done,” said Davidson, who highlighted sanctions imposed on Trump’s watch and the dismissal of people from the Russian consulate.

“Instead of getting credit for that, people look for the most partisan narrative.”

Trump has come under bipartisan fire for taking Putin’s word that Russia did not interfere in the U.S. election over the findings of the U.S. intelligence community.

He criticized special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation and slammed FBI agent Peter Strzok as a “disgrace” at the joint press conference with Putin, and described the Russian leader’s suggestion that Mueller’s team cooperate with Russia’s own investigation as an excellent offer.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDems fight to protect Mueller amid Rosenstein rumors Jordan wants Rosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee Kamala Harris calls for Senate to protect Mueller probe as Rosenstein faces potential dismissal MORE (R-Wis.) is among the Republicans who have criticized Trump’s response. On Tuesday, he described Russia as a menace.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus appeared more interested in pushing back at fellow Republicans’ criticism of Trump than they were of criticizing Russia.

Rep. Ralph NormanRalph Warren NormanKavanaugh fight roils an already ugly political climate GOP lawmaker tells people to ‘lighten up’ over joke about Ruth Bader Ginsburg being groped GOP lawmaker mocks Kavanaugh accusation, jokes that Ruth Bader Ginsburg claimed she was groped by Lincoln MORE (R-S.C.) said some comments critical of Trump by Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCongress must use bipartisan oversight as the gold standard The Hill's Morning Report — Ford, Kavanaugh to testify Thursday as another accuser comes forward Trump hits McCain on ObamaCare vote MORE (R-Ariz) were unwarranted. McCain in a statement on Monday labeled the Trump-Putin presser as “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

Norman also criticized former CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanNew book: Putin tried to reinforce Trump’s belief in a ‘deep state’ undermining him Retired admiral resigned from Pentagon advisory committee after writing open letter to Trump Rand Paul ramps up his alliance with Trump MORE for saying that Trump's comments were treasonous. Norman said Brennan was “actively undermining the sitting president of the United States.”

Norman then said the media should focus more on the positive aspects of the summit.

“This president is great at reading people — he knows that Mr. Putin is not a choir boy, he’s not an angel,” he said. “He’ll do whatever he can to advance Russia, but I’m glad we’ve got the summit and I wish they [the media] would focus on the positive aspects of his actions."

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) said he thought questions from reporters on Russian interference and whether Putin has damaging information about Trump or his family were inappropriate. 

“I thought it was really odd that a reporter in Helsinki, Finland, after the conclusion of a brief summit would ask President Trump the question that triggered the whole odd reaction that the summit was a failure because President Trump didn’t castigate and attack Vladimir Putin,” he said. “I thought that was interesting and just a little unsettling. I thought it was also bizarre as I was watching someone asked a question whether Vladimir Putin had anything on the president and his family — you know what gave me a little angst over that? The idiocy over those two questions.”

Trump has also blamed the media for the criticism of his performance.

Media criticism has been notable because it has not just come from regularly critical voices of Trump on CNN and MSNBC, but from more usually friendly terrain such as Fox News.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who is often fawning in his comments about Trump, said Monday that the president had made the “most serious mistake of his presidency” at the Putin summit.

While conservatives have largely supportive of Trump's handling of the Russia summit, a number have been critical of his remarks.  

“Today’s press conference between President Trump and Vladimir Putin was a missed opportunity to hold Russia accountable for their meddling into our 2016 presidential election. I don’t agree with President Trump’s comments that his regime didn’t interfere," Rep. Ted YohoTheodore (Ted) Scott YohoOn The Money: Trump announces new China tariffs | Wall Street salaries hit highest level since 2008 | GOP bets the House on the economy GOP: The economy will shield us from blue wave House passes measure to identify, sanction hackers assisting in cyberattacks against US MORE (R-Fla.) said in comments after the summit.

Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashRand Paul ramps up his alliance with Trump Ethics watchdog requests probe into Trump officials traveling to campaign events Kavanaugh’s views on privacy, Fourth Amendment should make Republicans think twice MORE (R-Mich.) said he also disapproved of the president's comments, tweeting "Our main concern should be the president’s bizarre behavior with respect to Putin. We’ll have to see what Mueller finds, if anything" when asked by a constituent if he believed Putin or American intelligence community."

"A person can be in favor of improving relations with Russia, in favor of meeting with Putin, and still think something is not right here," he tweeted Monday.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said he’s not afraid of pushing back against the president when it's warranted. But he said the Russia summit didn’t merit the harsh criticisms of Trump.

Meadows went on to say that Congress should focus its attention on passing legislation to fight election interference instead of criticizing Trump’s remarks. 

“We’re critiquing a press conference today instead of critiquing our own inaction as it relates to that," he said. “When are we going to get serious about the fact that cyber hacking is not only a current problem, but a future problem that will undermine our democracy and when are members in the Senate and the House going to do that?”

This story was updated at 3:18 p.m.