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GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki

GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Guardian slams Trump over comments about assault on reporter Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Watchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US MORE’s refusal to denounce Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election sparked a backlash Monday from Republican lawmakers, including prominent voices on national security and foreign policy.

The sharpest criticism came from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcConnell: GOP could try to repeal ObamaCare again after midterms Comey donates maximum amount to Democratic challenger in Virginia House race Live coverage: McSally clashes with Sinema in Arizona Senate debate MORE (R-Ariz.), who blasted Trump’s joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin as “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

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The 81-year-old senator, a frequent critic of Trump but one who has often expressed confidence in the president’s national security team, said he found it “painful and inexplicable” how his advisers could allow such “blunders and capitulations.”

“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant,” he fumed in a statement.

Other GOP lawmakers — even some of Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill, like Sens. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisDems angered by GOP plan to hold judicial hearings in October Kavanaugh tensions linger after bitter fight GOP fractured over filling Supreme Court vacancies in 2020 MORE (N.C.) and Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Congress should work with Trump and not 'cowboy' on Saudi Arabia, says GOP senator US to open trade talks with Japan, EU, UK MORE (Utah) — were critical of the outcome of the Helsinki summit, where Putin denied that Russia meddled in the U.S. election.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrDems can use subpoena power to reclaim the mantle of populism Collusion judgment looms for key Senate panel The National Trails System is celebrating 50 years today — but what about the next 50 years? MORE (R-N.C.) pushed back on Trump giving credence to those denials.

Burr said his panel “found no reason to doubt” U.S. intelligence findings that “Putin ordered an influence campaign aimed at the 2016 U.S. elections with the goal of undermining faith in our democratic process.”

He said Russia had conducted a “coordinated cyberattack” on state election systems and “hacked critical infrastructure.”

Putin “is not our friend,” Burr said, and he urged Trump not to “tolerate hostile Russian activities against us or our allies.”

Republicans on Capitol Hill have generally been leery to criticize Trump publicly or to risk getting into personal spats with him. But even GOP leaders scrambled to distance themselves from the president’s remarks in Helsinki.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump says GOP will support pre-existing condition protections | McConnell defends ObamaCare lawsuit | Dems raise new questions for HHS on child separations Poll finds Dems prioritize health care, GOP picks lower taxes when it's time to vote The Hill's 12:30 Report — Mnuchin won't attend Saudi conference | Pompeo advises giving Saudis 'few more days' to investigate | Trump threatens military action over caravan MORE (R-Ky.), who has at times pushed back on Trump drawing moral equivalence between U.S. and Russian policy, warned that Russia should not be trusted.

“I have said a number of times, I’ll say it again: The Russians are not our friends,” McConnell told reporters. “And I entirely believe the assessment of our intelligence community.”

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThe Memo: Saudi storm darkens for Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report — Mnuchin won't attend Saudi conference | Pompeo advises giving Saudis 'few more days' to investigate | Trump threatens military action over caravan The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns MORE (R-Wis.) warned that Russia “remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals.”

“There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world,” he said. “The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy.”

The comments by GOP leaders echoed broad criticism from analysts and pundits at news outlets ranging from CNN and NBC to Fox News.

Bret Baier of Fox News called the press conference “surreal,” while his network colleague Brit Hume called Trump’s reference to the probe into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWatchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US Republicans cancel airtime in swing Vegas district The Democratic Donald Trump is coming MORE’s private email server to deflect questions about Russian interference a “lame response, to say the least.”

U.S. Senate candidate and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyArizona Dems hope higher Latino turnout will help turn the state blue Trump changes tone on Saudi Arabia amid mounting pressure Election Countdown: Florida Senate fight resumes after hurricane | Cruz softens ObamaCare attacks | GOP worries Trump will lose suburban women | Latest Senate polls | Rep. Dave Brat gets Trump's 'total endorsement' | Dem candidates raise record B MORE also weighed in with his own criticism.

“President Trump’s decision to side with Putin over American intelligence agencies is disgraceful and detrimental to our democratic principles,” Romney said in a tweet. “Russia remains our number one geopolitical adversary; claiming a moral equivalence between the United States and Russia not only defies reason and history, it undermines our national integrity and impairs our global credibility.”

GOP lawmakers had publicly urged Trump ahead of the meeting to warn Putin not to interfere again in American elections. Instead, the president declined to criticize Russia even when asked pointedly to do so during a 45-minute joint press conference.

Trump even sided with Russia over his own intelligence agencies’ conclusion about Russia’s meddling in the election.

“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump told reporters in Helsinki.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerOvernight Defense: Trump shifts tone on Saudis | New pressure from lawmakers | Trump: 'Certainly looks' like Khashoggi dead | Pompeo gives Saudis days to wrap up investigation | Trump threatens military action on border to stop migrants Trump changes tone on Saudi Arabia amid mounting pressure The Hill's 12:30 Report — Mnuchin won't attend Saudi conference | Pompeo advises giving Saudis 'few more days' to investigate | Trump threatens military action over caravan MORE (R-Tenn.) pronounced himself “disappointed” and “saddened” by what he saw as Trump’s soft response to Russian interference in the U.S. election and its aggressive tactics in Ukraine and the Middle East.

“The president should have been more forceful in talking about those grievances,” said Corker, who’s not seeking reelection this year. “Putin only understands strength and I did not think this was a good moment for our country.”

GOP lawmakers mostly kept under wraps any misgivings they felt about Trump giving equal footing to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a summit in Singapore last month, which gave Kim significant concessions.

But they made their unhappiness with Trump’s Russia dealings plain on Monday.

Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseGOP lawmaker on Trump's 'Horseface' comment: 'That's not the way men act' Republican senator and Sean Hannity clash over claims in new book GOP senators praise Haley as 'powerful' and 'unafraid' MORE (R-Neb.) panned Trump’s attempt to spread the blame for poor U.S.-Russian relations as “bizarre and flat-out wrong.”

“America wants a good relationship with the Russian people but Vladimir Putin and his thugs are responsible for Soviet-style aggression,” he warned. “When the president plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs.”

Corker said that while he shares Trump’s desire to have good relations with Russia, he felt the president’s remarks after meeting with Putin “made us look as a nation more like a pushover and I was disappointed in that.”

Former Republican Sen. Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelTrump’s bogus use of cyber threats to prop up coal GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Overnight Defense: Latest on historic Korea summit | Trump says 'many people' interested in VA job | Pompeo thinks Trump likely to leave Iran deal MORE (Neb.), who served as secretary of Defense under President Obama, said Trump “failed America, our interests today, in every way.”

Republicans have long held an advantage over Democrats on the issue of national security, but Trump’s conciliatory stance toward Putin could erode the president’s credibility on the issue.

Democratic leaders pounced on Monday in hopes of tying the GOP broadly to Trump as soft on Russia.

“What, if anything, will Congress do in response to this awful trip?” Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers MORE (N.Y.) told reporters at a press conference. “Where are our Republican colleagues ... who know in their heart that the president is giving away the store to Vladimir Putin?”

Trump’s chummy appearance with Putin also drew criticism from House Republicans like Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Election Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP MORE (R-Calif.).

“There is simply no comparing the actions of the United States and Vladimir Putin,” he said in a statement, citing Putin’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Royce argued those aggressive actions by Moscow were to blame for what he called a “low point” in U.S.-Russian relations, not what Trump in a tweet earlier Monday called “many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity.”

Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikRyan signals support for sanctions if Saudis killed Khashoggi Ryan on Trump’s ‘Horseface’ tweet: There’s no place for that type of language Cuomo: Driver in deadly limo crash did not have proper license MORE (N.Y.), a Republican on the House Armed Services and Intelligence panels, said she also disagreed with the president and called Russia an “adversary.”

“We must continue to work with our allies to counter Russia’s influence around the world,” she urged.

Jordain Carney contributed.