WASHINGTON – Republicans are accusing President Joe Biden of being weak on Russia after his summit with Vladimir Putin, conveniently ignoring four years of Putin flattery from former President Donald Trump.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Biden had given Putin a “pass” at their summit in Switzerland Wednesday, while Trump said the U.S. “didn’t get anything” from the meeting. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a potential 2024 contender, declared, “America today is weaker than it was on the world stage just 48 hours ago.”
It's a curious line of attack from a party that largely turned a blind eye as Trump spent four years praising the Russian strongman, including stunning comments at a 2018 joint press conference in Helsinki during which Trump sided with Putin over his own intelligence agencies' conclusion that Russia had meddled in the 2016 U.S. to help elect Trump.
And it comes as Republicans have struggled to drag down Biden's approval ratings, which have been buoyed by praise of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“President Biden should have used yesterday’s summit to show that the United States will hold Russia accountable for its long list of transgressions, Instead, he gave Vladimir Putin a pass," McCarthy tweeted. “We need real leadership that puts the American people first again.”
Calling into Sean Hannity’s Fox News Channel show, Trump said Biden's summit had accomplished too little — repeating criticism Trump himself faced for holding two summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that produced few measurable changes, while elevating the dictator on the world stage.
"We gave a very big stage to Russia and we got nothing,” Trump said Wednesday night. “And you know, you have to form your own judgments, it’s not for me to say. But I will say that I think it was a good day for Russia. I don’t see what we got out of it.”
Pompeo told The Associated Press that Biden had missed “a chance to make it clear to the Russians that their maligned activity was not acceptable and to make clear that we were going to impose real costs in the event that they continued it.”
He criticized Biden's policies, including extending the New START treaty, which would have expired earlier this year had Trump won reelection, and hit Biden for refusing to appear alongside Putin at a joint press conference. Biden instead held his own, separate event.
The White House said it hadn't wanted to give Putin a platform to showboat and wanted Biden to have the last word.
Both Biden and Putin declared the talks constructive. While there were no major breakthroughs, the two agreed to return their respective ambassadors to Washington and Moscow in a bid to improve badly deteriorated diplomatic relations. And on cybersecurity, Biden said they agreed to have their experts work out an understanding about what types of critical infrastructure would be off-limits amid a flood of ransomware attacks against U.S. businesses and government agencies.
But Putin’s rhetoric did not budge, as he refused to accept any responsibility for his nation’s election meddling, cyberhacking or crackdown on domestic political opponents. At the summit’s conclusion Biden acknowledged that he could not be confident that Putin would change his behavior even with newly threatened consequences.
Biden national security adviser Jake Sullivan defended the talks during a Thursday call with reporters and said Biden had challenged Putin “on a range of issues that the previous president, who Representative McCarthy supported, strongly gave President Putin a pass on.”
Sullivan said Biden had confronted his Russian counterpart on issues including the treatment of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, detained Americans in Russia, cyberattacks and interference in U.S. elections.
“He didn’t side with Putin against the intelligence community on that, quite the contrary,” he said, adding: “I really do not believe it is hyperbole to say that Joe Biden returns from this trip as the clear and the consensus leader of the free world."
___ Associated Press writers Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina and Josh Boak in Baltimore contributed to this report.