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GOP lawmakers urge Trump to get tough on Russia

GOP lawmakers urge Trump to get tough on Russia

Eight Republican senators on Thursday urged President Trump to take a harder line on Russia, days after he made controversial comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin decried by many as un-American.

“We write to ask you to pursue a results-oriented, but tough-minded and principled policy toward the Russian Federation,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Trump.

“While we should seek common ground with Russia in the areas of mutual interest, we must never pursue cooperation with Russia at the expense of our fundamental interests of defending our allies and promoting our values.”

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Signees included Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerElection Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue Democrats must end mob rule GOP senators praise Haley as 'powerful' and 'unafraid' MORE (Colo.), James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeGraham: 'Game changer' if Saudis behind journalist's disappearance GOP senators ask EPA to block states that have 'hijacked' rule to stop fossil fuel production Pentagon releases report on sexual assault risk MORE (Okla.), Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungMnuchin pulls out of Saudi conference On The Money: Treasury official charged with leaking info on ex-Trump advisers | Trump to seek 5 percent budget cut from Cabinet members | Mnuchin to decide by Thursday on attending Saudi conference Mnuchin to decide by Thursday whether to attend Saudi conference MORE (Ind.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanOn The Money: Mnuchin to attend anti-terror meeting in Saudi Arabia | Treasury releases guidance on 'opportunity zone' program | Maxine Waters gets company in new GOP line of attack Election Countdown: O'Rourke brings in massive M haul | Deal on judges lets senators return to the trail | Hurricane puts Florida candidates in the spotlight | Adelson spending big to save GOP in midterms How Kavanaugh got the votes  MORE (Ohio), Mike Rounds (S.D.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsConservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns Susan Collins and the mob mentality MORE (Maine) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCorker: US must determine responsibility in Saudi journalist's death Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation Trump calls Saudi explanation for journalist's death credible, arrests 'good first step' MORE (S.C.).

They urged the president to take steps to counter continued Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, following the 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula, and maintain the current sanctions regime until Russia withdraws from the country.

They also pressed the president not to enter into any diplomatic or military agreements with Moscow as long as Russia supports Syrian President Bashar Assad in the ongoing conflict in that country.

Trump has said that the U.S. and Russia should cooperate to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Officials and national security experts have argued that such a proposal is fanciful, saying Russia’s primary goal is to maintain influence in the region by propping up the Assad regime.

For example, few Russian airstrikes in the region have been against ISIS targets.

“It is plainly evident that despite Russian claims to the contrary, Moscow’s main goal is not the defeat of the Islamic State, but the preservation of the Assad regime at any cost,” the lawmakers wrote Thursday, using an alternate name for the terror group.

They urged “a firm response” to Russian attempts to interfere in the U.S. elections — including “diplomatic actions, economic consequences, as well as a strengthened military posture in Europe.”

“Most importantly, we urge you to relay to Moscow that the values of democracy, human rights, transparency, and accountability are central to U.S. foreign policy, that these values are non-negotiable, and that the United States will continue to advance these values globally, including with regard to Russia."

Trump throughout the campaign and since he was inaugurated has alarmed Republicans with his warm attitude toward Russia.

Those fears turned to outrage last weekend when the president downplayed contract killings ordered by Putin.

During an interview that aired Sunday night, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly pressed Trump on the issue, saying: “But he's a killer though. Putin's a killer.”

“There are a lot of killers. We've got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?” Trump responded.

The comments drew swift condemnation from both sides of the aisle.

"It's really incredible that the president of the United States would equate the greatest nation on earth, that has the greatest record of helping people on earth, with that of Vladimir Putin, who is a butcher and a killer,” Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family Arizona Dems hope higher Latino turnout will help turn the state blue McConnell: GOP could try to repeal ObamaCare again after midterms MORE (R-Ariz.) said on CNN Thursday.

The White House has attempted to soothe jangled nerves, arguing that Trump's comments were an affirmation of the president’s desire to begin a new relationship with Russia — not a statement of moral equivalency.

"Rather what the president is seeking to do is to begin anew, a relationship with the people of Russia and with their leadership to say, 'Are there ways that we can begin to work together?'” Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Trump, Obama head to swing states with Senate majority in balance The Fed really is ‘crazy’ for undercutting Trump recovery Hillicon Valley: Russia-linked hackers hit Eastern European companies | Twitter shares data on influence campaigns | Dems blast Trump over China interference claims | Saudi crisis tests Silicon Valley | Apple to let customers download their data MORE told Fox News earlier this week.