WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle sharply criticized President Donald Trump’s performance at a joint news conference with Russian President Vladmir Putin on Monday, with several Republicans describing Trump’s dismissive remarks on Russian election interference as “shameful” and a “missed opportunity” to hold Putin accountable.
House Speaker Paul Ryan pushed back against Putin’s denial to Trump that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 presidential election as concluded by U.S. intelligence officials. Ryan said “there is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world.”
“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally,” Ryan said in a statement issued shortly after Trump and Putin appeared side by side at a news conference in Helsinki, Finland. “There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, reiterated: “The Russians are not our friends,” and said he has “complete confidence in our intelligence community and the findings that they have announced.”
A number of other Republicans also publicly chastised Trump. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called the news conference “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory,” and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said it was a “missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.”
Long Island’s congressional delegation was also mostly critical of Trump’s friendly tone toward Putin.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y), took issue with Trump for not defending the U.S. intelligence community’s findings, saying: “For the president of the United States to side with President Putin against American law enforcement, American defense officials, and American intelligence agencies is thoughtless, dangerous, and weak. The president is putting himself over our country.”
Sen Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) tweeted: “We just witnessed the President of the United States abdicate his national security responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief. When he was given the chance to hold Putin accountable and condemn Russia's interference in our elections, he refused.”
Rep. Pete King (R-Seaford), who shares a good working relationship with Trump, called Trump's remarks "indefensible" in a statement.
"President Trump's refusal to accept the documented findings and overwhelming evidence that Russia flagrantly interfered in our 2016 election is indefensible. Not only did the Intelligence Community conclude that Russia interfered, so too did the House and Senate Intelligence Committees," King said.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), another Trump ally, said in an e-mail, "it is important that President Trump met with Putin today, America's adversary, but opportunities like today must be better seized to tell the Russians to stay thousands of miles away from American elections.”
Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), in a statement, said Trump “has thrown America's intelligence community under the bus and sided with the Russians while on foreign soil.”
“The Russians have acted illicitly in Crimea, the Ukraine and in Syria. They are working to undermine democracy throughout the world. The President is just plain wrong here,” Suozzi said.
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D- Garden City), tweeted: “The President does not care that Russia attacked our democracy. And that's a total betrayal to our country.”
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), who represents a portion of western Nassau County, criticized Trump for talking “tough to allies, and soft with Putin.”
“Mr. President, you are the leader of the free world,” Meeks wrote on Twitter. “You are the President of the United States. You do not insult your country by saying we are on par with Russia, who has attacked our elections, attacked our allies elections, and seized Crimea.”
-- With Christine Chung