Politics: Senate Republicans Dance Around Trump Criticism as 2020 Nears - - PressFrom - US

PoliticsSenate Republicans Dance Around Trump Criticism as 2020 Nears

01:42  14 june  2019
01:42  14 june  2019 Source:   bloomberg.com

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Senate Republicans Dance Around Trump Criticism as 2020 Nears© Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images North America WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 12: U.S. President Donald Trump participates in a roundtable discussion on the administration's efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on June 12, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

(Bloomberg) -- Senate Republicans are honing their playbook for distancing themselves from President Donald Trump‘s comments while avoiding criticizing him by name or taking concrete action.

This strategy was apparent Thursday as GOP lawmakers made clear they disagreed with Trump’s ABC News interview in which he said he would accept a foreign government’s offer of dirt on a political opponent without necessarily calling the FBI. Yet most of them stopped short of directly rebuking Trump or saying they would take up legislation that would clearly make such conduct illegal.

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This has become a familiar act from Republicans who often disagree with their president yet are wary of being the subject of his ire -- especially on Twitter. With 22 Republican senators up for re-election in 2020 on the same ballot as Trump, they are trying to avoid becoming casualties of his unpopularity among the general public without alienating his staunchest supporters.

Some of the most vulnerable of those Republicans, like Cory Gardner of Colorado, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Susan Collins of Maine, responded to questions about Trump’s comments by saying campaigns should not take such information and should call the FBI.

“Just say no,” should be the president’s response to political help offered by foreign nationals, Gardner said. “Turn it over.”

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`Call the FBI'

“If there’s information coming in, certainly I would be notifying the authorities on that,” Ernst said. Asked if the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr. should have notified the FBI when Russian nationals offered him dirt on Hillary Clinton, Ernst nodded yes.

“In my judgment, the proper action for the president or any other federal official to take when contacted by a hostile foreign government with information or an offer of assistance is to call the FBI,” Collins said.

Trump’s comments, from an interview with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos aired Wednesday, were remarkable because he appeared to defend hypothetical actions similar to allegations investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller regarding Russian offers to help the Trump campaign in 2016. U.S. intelligence officials have warned that Russia and other countries could repeat and refine their tactics to meddle in the 2020 election.

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And while Republicans see Trump as an effective messenger and mobilizer, he is also notoriously prone to veering off message. During a stop Monday in Ohio, where he was slated to tout the tax law, Trump criticized Democrats for not applauding his State of the Union Address. "They were like death.

South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who doesn’t face re-election until 2020 , said the president “took a step backward by again suggesting Trump then touted a primary opponent of GOP Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, tweeting Flake “is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate .

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the president's comments were "welcoming a foreign power to interfere."

"The president's own FBI director said it's going to get worse in 2020," Schumer said. "But let's cover it up because it might have an effect we like, according to our Republican friends."

‘Simply Unthinkable’

Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who is up for re-election next year and serves on the Intelligence Committee, said he thinks foreign countries shouldn’t meddle and he wouldn’t accept foreign political help, but he also declined to cite the president by name.

“I can tell you what I would do,” Cornyn said. “I would call the FBI.”

Even Senator Lindsey Graham, a confidant of the president also up for re-election next year, called Trump’s comments “a mistake.” However, Graham also echoed many House Republicans who blamed Democrats for funding a 2016 dossier on Trump, provided by Christopher Steele, a British national.

Graham said it’s already against the law to accept assistance from a foreign government and said he’s interested in legislation dealing with foreign interference more broadly.

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But Senate Republicans are nevertheless making a counterintuitive, all-in bet that President Donald Trump will save their 51-49 majority — and perhaps even help them pick up a few seats. Republicans reason that opposition to Trump is already baked into the Democratic electorate.

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The sharpest GOP rebuke of Trump came from Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, a frequent critic of the president who called the idea of taking foreign dirt on a rival “simply unthinkable.” If a candidate accepted the help, he said, “it simply strikes at the heart of our democracy.”

Read More: Trump Defends Accepting Dirt on 2020 Rivals From Foreign Nations

While several talked up possible legislation to take on foreign interference, there are no such bills on the fast-track to passage in the Senate. Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn blocked an effort by Democratic Senator Mark Warner to pass a requirement to tell authorities about foreign government contacts with campaigns.

In addition to Warner’s bill, lawmakers mentioned other proposals as possible avenues for action. Gardner brought up the DETER Act bill, which would impose sanctions on countries that interfere in future elections, and Cornyn pointed to bipartisan legislation by GOP Senator Chuck Grassley and Democrat Dianne Feinstein to tighten registration requirements for foreign agents working in the U.S.

Grassley said Warner’s idea sounded to him like “common sense” but said he’d have to look into it.

Other Republicans simply sounded exasperated that Trump revived the idea of accepting foreign assistance for a political campaign.

“I think the easy answer to that should be, `no, no,’” said Senator John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican. “We should not allow or tolerate any foreign intervention in our elections, to include having foreign countries try and feed information like that to campaigns.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Steven T. Dennis in Washington at sdennis17@bloomberg.net;Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kevin Whitelaw at kwhitelaw@bloomberg.net, Anna Edgerton, Laurie Asséo

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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