Trump’s Equating of U.S., Putin Derided on Both Sides of Aisle

  • Sasse says president needs to show leadership on Russia
  • Pence disputes notion that Trump was making moral equivalence

Donald Trump’s statement that the U.S. is no more “innocent” than Vladimir Putin’s Russia drew howls from Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Sunday, while Vice President Mike Pence rejected the notion that Trump had been attempting to make a moral equivalence.

The comments came as the president finds himself increasingly at odds with lawmakers over his willingness to engage with Putin, who the U.S. intelligence community has said used cyberattacks on prominent Democrats to try to help Trump during the presidential campaign.

“There is no moral equivalency between the United States of America, the greatest freedom-loving nation in the history of the world” and Putin, said Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

“I am opposed to the way Putin conducts himself in world affairs,” said Sasse, who criticized Trump during the campaign. “I hope that the president also wants to show moral leadership on this issue.”

In an interview to be aired before Sunday’s Super Bowl, Trump said he respects Putin and downplayed an assertion by Bill O’Reilly of Fox News that the Russian leader is “a killer.”

“We’ve got a lot of killers,” Trump said in the interview, according to an excerpt provided by the network. “Do you think our country’s so innocent?”

Dissident Murders

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who competed with Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, also rejected the idea that there was a moral equivalency between the U.S. and Russia. He appeared to refer to accusations that Putin has had dissidents murdered.

“When has a Democratic political activists been poisoned by the GOP, or vice versa?” Rubio said in a posting on Twitter signed with his initials, which usually means that he composed it himself. “We are not the same as #Putin.”

Representative Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming, termed Trump’s suggestion of an equivalence with Russia “deeply troubling and wrong.” Cheney is the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Democrats didn’t shy away from the subject. “I really do resent that he would say something like that,” Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Klobuchar said she wanted to hear the Trump administration support an investigation of Russia’s election hacks and for increased sanctions on the country, even as Trump has indicated he is willing to consider diminishing or eliminating sanctions.

‘Every Utterance’

Trump said in the interview excerpt from Fox News that despite his respect for the Russian leader, he may not “get along with” Putin. Still, it would be a “good thing” if the two countries could cooperate in the fight against the Islamic State, he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that there is no equivalence between the way the U.S. and the Russians conduct themselves, and that he would not have used the characterization that Trump did.

“I’m not going to critique every utterance of the president,” McConnell added. “I obviously don’t see this issue the same way he does.”

Pence defended Trump during appearances on Sunday morning talk shows. He said the president was not putting the U.S. on par with Russia and was simply being critical of government policies.

“Look, President Trump, throughout his life, his campaign and in this administration, has never hesitated to be critical of government policies by the United States in the past,” Pence said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “But there was no moral equivalency.”

Pence also said Trump is showing a determination to “start afresh with Putin” and possibly cooperate on matters such as combating terrorism.

“What you’re hearing there is a determination by the president of the United States to not let semantics or the arguments of the past get in the way of exploring the ability to work together with Russia,” Pence said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

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