Fallout Continues From Trump's Comments In Helsinki

Jul 17, 2018
Originally published on July 17, 2018 6:21 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

OK, we're going to turn now to NPR's Kelsey Snell, who has been following reaction on Capitol Hill. Hey, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

CHANG: So let's start with the remarks President Trump said today where he kind of took back some of what was said in yesterday's press conference. He does accept Russia interfered in the 2016 election. He meant wouldn't instead of would. What has been the reaction in Congress to this update on his remarks?

SNELL: Well, there's been some skepticism to say the least, but largely it's been coming from Democrats. Republicans have mostly been quiet. It's one of those days where Congress kind of got out of the Capitol Building before this Trump statement could come out. But I think it's been most forcefully said by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: President Trump tried to squirm away from what he said yesterday. It's 24 hours too late and in the wrong place.

SNELL: And that's basically what we're hearing from a lot of Democrats. It's kind of a - too late, not enough and feeling like the cat's kind of out of the bag for the president and what he said and the frustration and the issues that it's causing in the Capitol aren't going anywhere.

CHANG: Well, the president was getting a lot of criticism from members of his own party beginning yesterday up until today. Has any of it let up?

SNELL: Well, it - there's definitely been widespread frustration. Now, we are hearing a lot from Democrats in response to this statement, but Republicans were definitely not OK with what the president did at that press conference. Particularly, they focused on the idea that he was undermining the U.S. intelligence community's assessment, and it's forced nearly every Republican in Congress to make a statement, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was very clear that he believes that Russia interfered in the election. I think we have him saying that.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: I think the Russians need to know that there are a lot of us who fully understand what happened in 2016, and it really better not happen again.

SNELL: That's kind of been the theme from most of the Republicans, particularly Republicans who have to run for re-election again and have to answer to voters in a base that really continues to support President Trump. Speaker Ryan said something very similar to what McConnell said. But they were also similar in that they never criticized Trump by name. They focused on what he said about the intelligence community assessment about interference in the election.

CHANG: Well, if Republicans aren't satisfied with the way President Trump sort of cleaned up his remarks from yesterday, what steps can lawmakers actually take at this point?

SNELL: One thing on the table is the idea of passing more sanctions. Democrats have raised that. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has been pressing for more sanctions, and Republican leaders acknowledge that those could happen if the committees of jurisdiction decide to go that route. But they didn't go anywhere near guaranteeing that new sanctions were imminent.

But basically the only legislative option on the table right now is a bipartisan bill from Senators Marco Rubio and Chris Van Hollen. Rubio's a Republican from Florida, and Chris Van Hollen is a Democrat from Maryland. It would require the director of National Intelligence to report to Congress on any election interference within a month of the election. If interference is found, then sanctions would be automatically applied. And Senate Majority Leader McConnell did mention that bill when he was talking about options.

The other thing that's out there is Senate Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado has legislation to require the State Department to determine if Russia is a state sponsor of terror.

CHANG: All right, that's NPR's Kelsey Snell. Thanks so much, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.