The Memo: Russian cloud casts new shadow over GOP agenda – The Hill
President Trump is under a new Russian cloud, frustrating Republicans who see their fraught efforts to push a legislative agenda being overshadowed once again.
The New York TimesÂ on SundayÂ revealed that the presidentâs son Donald TrumpDonald TrumpChanging America: The county that gave Clinton only 5 votes The Memo: Russian cloud casts new shadow over GOP agenda Dems aim to take out longtime GOP incumbent in Texas MORE Jr. last year met a Kremlin-linked lawyer who suggested she had damaging information on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonChanging America: The county that gave Clinton only 5 votes The Memo: Russian cloud casts new shadow over GOP agenda Dems aim to take out longtime GOP incumbent in Texas MORE.Â The presidentâs son-in-law Jared Kushner and his then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended the meeting.
The Times followed up with another revelation on Monday evening, reporting that the younger Trump had been told in advance of this June 2016 meeting that the purportedly damaging information was part of an attempt by the Russian government to assist his father’s presidential bid.The news comes at a critical juncture for Republican leaders, who have struggled to move the party’s agenda on Capitol Hill. The Senate is hoping to pass an ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill this month, but getting such a measure through the upper chamber in that timeframe looks more and more unlikely.Â
Reverberations are also being felt from Trumpâs meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Group of 20 conference in Hamburg, Germany, last week.Â
Prominent Republicans joined a chorus of criticism over Trumpâs initial suggestion that the U.S. and Russia might create a joint initiative on cybersecurity.
Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamThe Memo: Russian cloud casts new shadow over GOP agenda Overnight Cybersecurity: Trump backtracks on cyber unit with Russia | Lawmakers offer cyber amendments to defense bill | Donald Trump Jr. under scrutiny for Russia meeting Trump reverses on Russian-American cybersecurity unit MORE (R-S.C.) on NBCâs âMeet The PressâÂ on SundayÂ calledÂ that proposal âpretty closeâ to the âdumbest idea Iâve ever heard.â Sen. John McCainJohn McCainChanging America: The county that gave Clinton only 5 votes The Memo: Russian cloud casts new shadow over GOP agenda Overnight Cybersecurity: Trump backtracks on cyber unit with Russia | Lawmakers offer cyber amendments to defense bill | Donald Trump Jr. under scrutiny for Russia meeting MORE (R-Ariz.) on CBSâs âFace the Nationâ sarcasticallyÂ suggestedÂ that Putin could indeed be helpful on the topic âsince he is doing the hacking.â
On SundayÂ evening, Trump made a relatively rare public backtrack,Â tweetingÂ that âThe fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It canât.â
The furor has Republicans lamenting new distractions from the business of passing legislation. The GOP-controlled Congress has not passed any major bills, and its efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act â a Republican pledge to voters since ObamaCareâs inception â are shrouded in uncertainty.
Judd Gregg, a former GOP senator from New Hampshire who is also a columnist with The Hill, described the Russia controversies as âextremely unhelpful.âÂ
Gregg added that âthey undermine the message, they distract, they take away from the time that administration officials, including the president and the chief of staff, can be engaged in policy. And they affect the confidence of congressional Republicans in the White Houseâs ability to stay focused.â
The realization that the Russian matter has been given a new lease of life is deepening Republican gloom.Â
Donald Trump Jr. had at first stated that his meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was primarily about adoption laws. Only later did he acknowledge that the attorney had âstated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton.â
The question of why the presidentâs son did not admit that at the outset remains unanswered. But he defended himself on TwitterÂ on Monday,Â writing,Â âObviously I’m the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent… went nowhere but had to listen.âÂ
Sen. Mark WarnerMark WarnerThe Memo: Russian cloud casts new shadow over GOP agenda Trump Jr. becomes central character in Russia storm Dem fumes over Team Trump’s ‘pattern of convenient forgetfulness’ MORE (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is looking into allegations of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign,Â toldÂ reportersÂ on MondayÂ that he âabsolutelyâ wanted the presidentâs son to speak with the panel.Â
âObviously this past weekendâs revelations move us forward, and we expect much more to come,â Warner said. He added that although the president âcontinues to say there is no âthereâ there â¦ virtually every week or two thereâs more stories of undisclosed meetings with Russian officials.â
The White House has sought to push back against suggestions that there was anything untoward about the meeting. Principal deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during an off-camera media briefingÂ MondayÂ that âDon Jr. did not collude with anybody to influence the election â¦ Don Jr. took a very short meeting from which there was absolutely no follow-up.âÂ
But in the broader Republican world, there is frustration that the president and, by extension, the GOP in Congress are having to try to bat away Russian controversy once again.Â
That irritation is made all the more acute because some believe Trump acquitted himself decently on his foreign trip â but worry that any momentum from that has been relinquished.
Republicans in Congress âare going to be looking for a healthcare bill, and this has the capacity to derail that,â said David Woodard, a Clemson University professor who is also a GOP strategist. âJohn Kennedy said that domestic policy can only defeat us, but foreign policy can kill us. It takes priority over everything else because the nation is deemed to be at risk in some way.â
Even setting aside the Don Jr. meeting, Republicans are perplexed as to why the president himself would score what they see as a political own goal with the original idea of a joint initiative on cybersecurity.
Rick Tyler, a Republican strategist who worked for Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzSenate GOP tries healthcare do-over The Memo: Russian cloud casts new shadow over GOP agenda Overnight Healthcare: Senate Republicans eye repeal vote next week | Pence endorses repeal and delay | Cruz-Lee proposal hinges on budget score MORE (R-Texas) during the 2016 GOP primary, described the idea as âinsane.â
Tyler laughed wryly when asked about what effect the Russian controversies might have on the GOP legislative agenda.
âWe donât have to wonder about it,â he said. He noted that the president had historically low approval numbers, something that he said translated to a lack of political capital.
âWhen you have no political capital and no public support, we donât have to wonder about what happens,â Tyler said. âIf the engines fall off just as the plane takes off, we donât have to speculate about whether it is going to crash.â
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trumpâs presidency.