House conservatives criticize media, not Trump, for Putin furor

Top conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus are defending President TrumpDonald TrumpCheney challenger wins Wyoming Republican activists' straw poll We must do more to protect American Jews 6 in 10 say they would back someone other than Biden in 2024: Fox News poll 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 DavidsonOhio Republican apologizes for comparing DC vaccine mandate to Nazi Germany amid backlash Ohio Republican sparks condemnation for comparing DC vaccine mandate to Nazi Germany Trump war with GOP seeps into midterms 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 (Bob) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG 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 RyanHow Kevin McCarthy sold his soul to Donald Trump On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Stopping the next insurrection 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 NormanMask rules spark political games and a nasty environment in the House Reps. Massie, Grijalva test positive for COVID-19 GOP Reps. Greene, Clyde accrue nearly 0K in combined mask fines MORE (R-S.C.) said some comments critical of Trump by Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBiden: A good coach knows when to change up the team These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Redistricting reform key to achieving the bipartisanship Americans claim to want 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 BrennanOvernight Defense & National Security — US, Israeli defense chiefs discuss Iran US ends combat mission against ISIS in Iraq, but troops remain This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead 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 YohoOcasio-Cortez: Gosar so weak he 'couldn't open a pickle jar' Rep. Gosar posts anime video showing him striking Biden, Ocasio-Cortez Will America fight for Taiwan? MORE (R-Fla.) said in comments after the summit.

Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashDemocrats defend Afghan withdrawal amid Taliban advance Vietnam shadow hangs over Biden decision on Afghanistan Kamala Harris and our shameless politics 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.