House conservatives criticize media, not Trump, for Putin furor

Top conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus are defending President TrumpDonald John TrumpCoast Guard chief: 'Unacceptable' that service members must rely on food pantries, donations amid shutdown Dem lawmaker apologizes after saying it's never been legal in US to force people to work for free Grassley to hold drug pricing hearing 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 DavidsonWashington must defend American crypto innovation, not crush it GOP lawmaker unveils bill soliciting private contributions to pay for border wall Fractious GOP vows to unify in House 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 RyanAs new Congress begins, federal-state connections are as important as ever Trump once asked Paul Ryan why he couldn’t be ‘loyal': book AEI names Robert Doar as new president 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 NormanSouth Carolina New Members 2019 House conservatives want ethics probe into Dems' handling of Kavanaugh allegations Milwaukee County GOP mocks Kavanaugh accusation, says Ginsburg claimed Lincoln 'grabbed my ass' MORE (R-S.C.) said some comments critical of Trump by Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Health Care: HHS chief refuses to testify on family separations | Grassley to test GOP on lowering drug prices | PhRMA spends record on lobbying in 2018 Will a Democratic woman break the glass ceiling in 2020? Republican state lawmaker introduces bill that would tax porn to fund Trump's border wall 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 BrennanHow the Clinton machine flooded the FBI with Trump-Russia dirt … until agents bit Brennan calls on Congress to end shutdown before negotiating border security: Not 'subservient' to the president Washington’s reflexive opposition to Trump on Syria 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 YohoThe new Democratic Congress has an opportunity to move legislation to help horses On The Money: Trump says he won't declare emergency 'so fast' | Shutdown poised to become longest in history | Congress approves back pay for workers | More federal unions sue over shutdown The 7 Republicans who voted against back pay for furloughed workers MORE (R-Fla.) said in comments after the summit.

Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashHouse passes bill expressing support for NATO Dems revive impeachment talk after latest Cohen bombshell McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader 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.