Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele on Wednesday blasted GOP senators for filibustering a measure to block President TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE from lifting sanctions against three Russian businesses, saying that the move shows that "they're down with protecting the president to such an extent that it's violative of the law."
"This is an example of circling the wagon on the hill, trying to give some space, some elbow room to the president right now, to sort of shift the narrative a bit, to sort of refocus the conversation," Steele said while speaking on MSNBC's "The Beat with Ari Melber."
The comments came hours after the Senate fell short of the necessary votes to end debate on a resolution focused on the Trump administration's plans to ease sanctions on businesses connected to Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Eleven GOP senators voted with Democrats to advance the measure to a floor vote, leaving it short of the 60 votes needed.
Asked if a part of this step was "collusion-y," as well as "Republican loyalty," Steele, who is a frequent critic of the president, responded that "it's all collusion."
“In my estimation, if you’re taking these steps given the information, the facts, as we now see them being laid out and you’re going to slow the roll, legislatively, then you’re now a part of this narrative just as much as anybody else is as far as I’m concerned," he stated. "These guys have the evidence. They have more information than you do sitting here, and you’ve got a lot."
He added that "if this is the step you want to take, if you’re going to gum up the work, filibuster on this measure ... then you’re saying to a lot of Americans out there that you’re down with protecting the president to such an extent that it's violative of the law, you don’t care."
"The most important thing is to give cover to this president," Steele concluded.
The Trump administration announced in December that it would relax sanctions on Rusal, EN+ and EuroSibEnergo, businesses connected to Deripaska.
Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinMenendez, Rubio ask Yellen to probe meatpacker JBS The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden rallies Senate Dems behind mammoth spending plan Mnuchin dodges CNBC questions on whether Trump lying over election MORE met with House Democrats and Senate Republicans to argue that the move was necessary because Deripaska’s ownership was below 50 percent.
Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (D-N.Y.) had called for Republicans to support a resolution blocking this move, asking, "Do you believe America should take a tough line on Putin?"
"Or do you think we should go easy on Putin and his cronies? From where I'm standing that's an easy choice," Schumer said.
The vote in the Senate on Wednesday means that the Trump administration will be able to follow through and lift the sanctions.
The step comes as special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate 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 Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE continues his investigation into Russian election interference and possible collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.