Trump Set To Meet With Lawmakers Amid Criticism Over Putin Meeting
NOEL KING, HOST:
President Trump is set to speak to some members of Congress today. Yesterday in Helsinki, Trump held a joint press conference with Russia's president, Vladimir Putin. And in that conference, President Trump appeared to undermine the U.S. intelligence community, saying that he did not think Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign. Now, that is despite their findings. Several senators and representatives, including Republicans, have criticized the president for that. NPR's congressional reporter Kelsey Snell has been talking to Republicans on Capitol Hill, and she's with me now.
Good morning, Kelsey.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: So what are Republicans in Congress telling you?
SNELL: Well, you know, I think that the criticism of the president falls into two really big, separate camps. First of all, it's important to recognize that there is widespread agreement that the people were unhappy with the way that press conference went and what the president said about the intelligence community, but they kind of disagree about how they want to respond to it. There's a first group of people who are people who are retiring or and - are in tough races in places where President Trump is just not already popular, and a good example of that is retiring Senator Bob Corker from Tennessee. He's kind of had a hot-and-cold relationship with the president, and he was been ready to criticize him anyway. And so I think we have a little tape of what he said.
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BOB CORKER: Everyone who's dealt with Putin understands fully that the best way to deal with him is through strength, and I just felt like the president's comments made us look, as a nation, more like a pushover.
SNELL: Yeah. You can hear there that he sounds disappointed. And other people in that camp, even maybe to a lesser degree, is House Speaker Paul Ryan, who put out a statement saying that, quote, "the president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia." Now, that's going further than many other people did, many other people like the other camp, which is kind of led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has to run for re-election and manage a party where Trump is pretty popular. And here's what he told us.
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MITCH MCCONNELL: As I've said repeatedly, the Russians are not our friends, and I entirely agree with the assessment of our intelligence community.
SNELL: So there's lots of frustration, and Republicans are kind of wringing their hands over what was kind of an embarrassing display of the president publicly betraying the party's position again.
KING: Whether they're taking a harder line or a softer line, is it unusual to see Republicans this upset with the president?
SNELL: We've seen them upset with the president about things like trade and tariffs more recently, and they've been more willing to push back on him. But they haven't really been able to come up with the ways that they can legislatively push back on the president or really do anything to change his behavior.
KING: Well, is there anything Congress can do to push back on Russia?
SNELL: Well, there are some things that people are floating. Senator Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, is calling for four things - more aggressive sanctions on Russia, though he wants the administration delegation to the meeting to be - to have to come before Congress to testify, and he wants Republicans to push back on Trump's criticism of the Mueller investigation, and he wants Russia to extradite 12 indicted Russians who were indicted last week for meddling in the election and for hacking. Now, Republicans have essentially dismissed this, and there are other people like Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, who say Congress is already doing a lot.
KEVIN MCCARTHY: We have done more against Russia than any other Congress - and this administration - and I don't hear anybody talking about dialing it back.
KING: I mean, how likely are Republicans to bring all this up when they meet with the president today? It's a fly-on-the-wall situation (laughter).
SNELL: That is a really good question. And, you know, I - we ask that every time they go in there, and for the most part, Republicans come out saying, well, we raised it a little bit, and they have never gone that far. So that's something we're going to be watching very closely is whether or not they actually do raise this with the president.
KING: And just briefly, will this change their relationship with President Trump?
SNELL: It's hard to say. They have been in conflict with the president before. This is not new ground for them. But this is on an international stage and something they're deeply uncomfortable with.
KING: NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell. Thanks, Kelsey.
SNELL: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.