Republican senators, from the establishment wing of the party, condemned en masse President Donald Trump’s phone call congratulating Russian President Vladimir Putin for his reelection.
“An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election,” tweeted Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) shortly after Trump made the call on Tuesday.
Taking a more cautionary tone, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell admitted to reporters that “calling [Putin] wouldn’t have been high on my list.”
The president’s call to Putin came during the makings of a diplomatic crisis, in which the United Kingdom and Russia both expelled an equal number of their counterpart’s diplomats following nerve agent attacks in London. The European Union and dominant Western powers condemned Russia’s alleged involvement in the attack, making Trump’s congratulations all the more infuriating to leading Republican lawmakers pushing for a display of solidarity with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
“Every time you talk with Putin and you give him a pass, that emboldens him,” echoed Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday night. “So our friends in Britain are probably disappointed the president didn’t push back.”
Senators Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) all expressed disapproval of the call to The Weekly Standard.
“[Congratulating Putin] would have been like me calling Fidel Castro and saying, ‘Congratulations on your election victory,'” Flake told the outlet.
“He’s a dictator and somebody who doesn’t represent the values of the people,” said Gardner.
“It’s a fake election,” added Rubio, who is co-sponsoring bipartisan legislation to help deter Russian cyber-attacks. “I don’t congratulate people for fake elections.”