Trump continues to praise Putin, forcing GOP to fall in line or splinter from former president

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ARCHIVO - El expresidente Donald Trump habla durante la Conferencia de Acción Política Conservadora, el domingo 28 de febrero de 2021, en Orlando, Florida. (AP Foto/John Raoux, archivo)
Former President Trump called Russian President Vladimir Putin a "genius" who is "very savvy." (John Raoux / Associated Press)

Former President Trump continued his criticism of President Biden on Wednesday, saying in a statement that Russian leader Vladimir Putin is “playing” him “like a drum.”

“It is not a pretty thing to watch!” Trump said.

His comments come a day after the former commander in chief went well beyond most Republicans by not just criticizing Biden’s handling of Russia’s aggression toward an invasion of Ukraine, but also lionizing President Putin.

In a separate statement Tuesday after Biden’s announcement of the first tranche of sanctions, Trump claimed such events would never have occurred during his presidency.

And in an interview with “The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show” published Tuesday, Trump called it “genius” of Putin to recognize two enclaves in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region as independent breakaway republics on Monday, adding that Putin is “very savvy.”

Trump’s former secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo, tweeted Wednesday that “allowing these thugs, autocrats, and dictators to move around freely is not in America’s best interest.”

But Tuesday, Pompeo’s past praise for Putin was widely circulated. Over the last month, he has called Putin “savvy,” “shrewd” and a “talented statesman” for whom he has “enormous respect.”

Republicans parroting Trump’s comments about Putin are “cowards” repeating “the nonsense that is fed to Trump by his handlers,” former Trump White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci tweeted Wednesday.

“Trump down deep laughs at all this,” Scaramucci said. “He can’t believe he has this level of sway.”

The recent rhetoric from Trump and Pompeo, his once-top diplomat, goes far beyond what most Republicans have said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned that the humanitarian consequences of a larger Russian invasion “could be catastrophic.”

Noting that the world is watching, McConnell challenged Biden to use his executive authority to impose “devastating sanctions against the Kremlin and its enablers.”

A joint statement from House GOP leaders called Putin’s invasion “reprehensible” and accused Biden of routinely choosing “appeasement” and “tough talk” without strong action to follow.

“The U.S. and our allies must now make the Putin regime pay for this aggression,” they said. “Congress should compel President Biden to take the tough steps his administration has opposed thus far.”

In a Fox News interview, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) referred to Biden’s first round of sanctions as “quarter measures.”

“Unfortunately, the administration spent the first 24 hours debating whether to even call this invasion an invasion, and the president took 80 minutes to come out for his own press conference, which doesn’t exactly project confidence and certainty and resolution to people watching in Moscow,” Cotton said.

The House Republican Conference went even further in criticizing Biden’s appearance, tweeting a C-SPAN screen grab of the president walking away from the lectern after delivering his remarks Tuesday.

“This is what weakness on the world stage looks like,” the tweet said.

For one Republican, it was an unfair slam against a president in the middle of an international crisis.

“As still ‘technically’ a member of house Republicans, let me, with all my might, condemn this damn awful tweet during this crisis,” retiring Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) wrote. “You can criticize policy but this is insane and feeds into Putins narrative.”

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who was voted out of GOP leadership for opposing Trump and whose primary opponent is backed by Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), said Trump’s “adulation” of Putin “aids our enemies.”

“Trump’s interests don’t seem to align with the interests of the United States of America,” she said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.