Trump's Hours With Putin Shake Washington, Don't Stir His Fans
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s one-on-one meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin continues to unsettle lawmakers and foreign policy experts, many of whom also gave the thumbs-down to a possible follow-up meeting at the White House.
Despite the tumult over the meeting with Putin and a contentious NATO summit days before, a new survey released Sunday showed the president’s overall approval rating had risen compared with June. The NBC-Wall Street Journal poll showed Trump’s job-approval rating at 45 percent, up one point from last month and a new high since his inauguration.
Trump, who’s spending the weekend at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, tweeted on Sunday that he “had a GREAT meeting with Putin and the Fake News used every bit of their energy to try to disparage it.”
It’s important to know what passed between the two leaders during the two-hour meeting in Helsinki on July 16, Susan Rice, national security adviser to President Barack Obama, said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “We need to know everything, and the president’s national security team needs to know everything.”
Rice said it was an “historic mistake” to allow Trump -- or any U.S. president -- to sit down with Putin without note-takers or aides present in the room. “We have no idea what transpired,” she said.
“The Russians are feeding their line of what happened,” Rice said. “We are hearing no rebuttal or comment from the United States. Russia is dictating the public perception -- the global public perception of what transpired in that meeting, and we have no basis for countering it.”
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said on Thursday that he was unaware of what transpired in the private Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki.
Only one other American heard the conversation between Trump and Russia’s president, an interpreter from the U.S. State Department. Republican lawmakers rejected a Democratic proposal to issue a subpoena for the translator to testify.
Thomas Bossert, Trump’s former homeland security adviser, defended the president’s performance in Helsinki while criticizing the Russian government’s subsequent readouts of the Trump-Putin meeting.
“They didn’t agree on anything, unlike what’s been reported -- apparently by the Russian government -- in a way to mislead us,” Bossert, who left the White House in April, said on ABC without saying how he got information about the meeting.
The potential for Trump to host Putin at the White House later this year for a follow-up summit drew bipartisan skepticism in the wake of last week’s meeting.
“In Helsinki, @POTUS agreed to ongoing working level dialogue between the two security council staffs,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a tweet Thursday. “President Trump asked @AmbJohnBolton to invite President Putin to Washington in the fall and those discussions are already underway.”
While it can be valuable to meet with countries that are adversaries, issuing an invitation is different, Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, said on “Fox News Sunday.” Such invitations should be reserved for U.S. allies such as the U.K., Australia and Canada “who are with us day in and day out,” he said.
“Russia is not our friend, and tried to attack us,” Gowdy said in reference to Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election. He termed evidence of those efforts “overwhelming” and said Trump “needs to say that and act like it.”
Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey also questioned the plan to bring Putin to the White House.
“We’re going to give him a red carpet treatment and invite him to Washington, to me that’s beyond comprehension,” said Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Trump instead “should be challenging” Putin, he said.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said that if Putin comes to the U.S., it should be with new sanctions on the table “that would be a hammer over Russia’s head if they continued to interfere in the 2018 election.”
Cut the ‘Pomp’
“Do not meet with this guy from a position of weakness,” said Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Rice said she had no objection to engaging with Russia, including holding talks with Putin. Such events can be done discreetly, though, such as during pull-asides at multinational gatherings such as the G-20 or the United Nations General Assembly meeting, she said. “It didn’t need to be a standalone summit with all sorts of pomp and circumstance,” she said.
“You must come prepared,” Rice said. “You must come to advance the United States’ agenda.”
A majority of Americans -- 56 percent -- disapproved of Trump’s comments in Helsinki that cast doubts on the conclusions of U.S. intelligence, compared with 29 percent who approved, according to an ABC News/Washington Post survey released on Sunday.
It’s the Economy
More broadly, 50 percent of those surveyed disapproved of Trump’s overall handling of the meeting, compared with 33 percent who approved. Some 47 percent said U.S. world leadership has become weaker under Trump versus 30 percent who said it’s stronger. The poll of 464 adults was conducted July 18-20 and had a sampling error of plus or minus 5.5 percentage points.
Sunday’s NBC/WSJ poll also showed dissatisfaction with Trump’s handling of U.S. relations toward Russia, but higher marks for the president’s relations with North Korea.
Putting foreign policy aside, 50 percent of voters support Trump’s handling of the economy, up 8 points from October. And asked to name the top one or two issues that will decide their vote in November’s mid-term elections, 36 percent mentioned the economy and jobs.
The poll was conducted July 15-18, straddling the Helsinki meeting, of 900 registered voters. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.
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