President Donald Trump ignited controversy among Democrats and Republicans alike Sunday when he equated the actions taken by the United States with the regime of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
In a Fox News interview that aired before the Super Bowl, Trump reiterated his respect for Putin and interviewer Bill O’Reilly called the federation leader a “killer.”
Trump responded, “We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?”
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) on Sunday described those remarks as “very unnerving.”
“No American president should ever talk that way,” King told Newsday in an interview.
“I strongly support Donald Trump, I strongly support his executive order, I strongly support his fight against terrorism, but there’s no way that any president of the United States should ever be equating us with Russia,” he said. “There’s no moral comparison.”
King called Putin a “murderer,” and said he believes the parallel drawn by Trump was similar to “comparing Roosevelt with Stalin or Churchill with Hitler.”
A spokeswoman for Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said it was difficult to comment on Trump’s remarks based on a clip previewed by Fox News early Sunday, but said, “Vladimir Putin aspires to be Vladimir the Great and probably would love to put the U.S.S.R. back together again if he could. Dangerous man.”
Trump has repeatedly expressed his admiration of Putin and desire for better U.S.-Russian relations, despite U.S. intelligence findings that the Kremlin hacked Democrats’ email accounts in an attempt to influence the presidential election. Putin has commended Trump as “talented, without a doubt.”
Opposition leaders and journalists have been killed during Putin’s time in power.
Trump told Fox News, “I respect a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to get along with him. He’s a leader of his country. I say it’s better to get along with Russia than not.”
The Kremlin did not immediately responded to the interview.
Democratic lawmakers from Long Island also painted Putin as a killer of political opponents and his reign as a dark contrast to the United States.
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) said, “We need to find out why President Trump is so obviously afraid of criticizing Putin.”
Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) said a corrupt Russia under Putin is a reality “I will fight against us ever becoming.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also took issue with Trump’s comments, telling CNN’s “State of the Union”: “Putin’s a former KGB agent, he’s a thug. He was not elected in a way that most people would consider a credible election.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted, “When has a Democratic political activist been poisoned by the GOP, or vice versa? We are not the same as #Putin.”
Vice President Mike Pence came to Trump’s defense on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” saying the administration wanted to start “afresh” with Moscow.
“President Trump, throughout his life, his campaign and this administration, has never hesitated to be critical of government policies by the United States in the past, but there was no moral equivalency there,” Pence said.
In the Fox interview, Trump also criticized the U.S. nuclear deal with Iran. He said Americans can expect a tax cut sometime before the end of the year,and a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act would by 2018.