House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik got her leadership position by sucking up to Trump and taking advantage of Rep. Liz Cheney’s refusal to be quiet about Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Her individual statement on the invasion of Ukraine follows Trump in taking a blame-Biden-first approach, railing against him as “weak, feckless, and unfit” for a long paragraph before turning to Putin more briefly. But she departs from Trump when she describes Putin as a “gutless, bloodthirsty, authoritarian dictator” and a “war criminal and deranged thug.”
It seems like it’s time for Stefanik to be asked what she thinks about Trump’s description of Putin as “smart” and “savvy” and “genius,” specifically in his Ukraine strategy. And it’s time for the traditional media to say it outright when Republicans follow Trump’s lead on attacking Biden over Putin’s actions.
Reps. Michael McCaul, Mike Rogers, and Mike Turner—who are the ranking Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, House Armed Services Committee, and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence—released a joint statement that, astonishingly, managed not to attack Biden. But all three also signed onto a House Republican leadership statement that did make this about Biden. If, as they say in their three-Mike statement, Putin is “true evil,” does that mean he’s not a smart, savvy genius? If “Every drop of Ukrainian and Russian blood spilled in this conflict is on Putin’s hands, and his alone,” does that mean it’s not Biden’s fault? If so, are they talking to the rest of Republican leadership (and, uh, themselves) about that?
Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “Today’s invasion of Ukraine by Russia is a premeditated and flagrant act of war. Despite committed efforts to find a diplomatic solution, Putin has violated the border of a sovereign country. No one should be surprised. U.S. agencies have made public the facts to show the world what was coming. Putin has always used force to take what he wants, from the occupation of Abkahzia and South Ossetia in Georgia, to the 2014 invasion of Ukraine, and the military occupation of Belarus. These are not the actions of a proud nation and people, but the actions of a desperate man whose only desire is to sow chaos in order to make himself look strong.”
Speaking of desperate men whose only desire is to make themselves look strong, what does Risch think about Trump’s comments?
On Wednesday, in the hours running up to Putin’s all-out invasion of Ukraine, Trump was holding his “Take Back Congress Candidate Forum” at Mar-a-Lago, featuring a number of sitting members of Congress. Those people—Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida, Rep. Mike Carey of Ohio, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Rep. Debbie Lesko of Arizona, Rep. Mary Miller of Illinois, Rep. Mike Waltz of Florida, Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina—should definitely be getting questions about what conversations they had with Trump about the issue and how they felt about being at an event that boosted his stature in the Republican Party and was sandwiched between times he praised Putin for invading Ukraine. Graham in particular needs to face questions given his longtime identity as a Russia hawk.
Congress is in recess right now, so the reporters who hang out in the Capitol halls peppering members of Congress with questions can’t do their thing. But Republicans need to be put on the spot: Are they with Donald Trump on this or are they not? If they’re not, do they think it’s a problem that he’s calling a “war criminal and deranged thug” a savvy genius? Doesn’t that seem like a clout-chasing would-be-Capitol-Hill-insider reporter would think it was a more interesting story than “Shrug, they’re ignoring him”?