Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) isn’t standing behind President Donald Trump’s latest defense of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Republican congressman said he was “concerned” that Trump seemed to shrug off the suggestion that Putin is a “killer.”
“We’ve got a lot of killers,” the president said during an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that aired Sunday. “What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?”
Putin, a former member of the Soviet Union spy agency KGB, is notorious for his brutal crackdown on political dissidents. Hoards of journalists, human rights activists and fellow Russian politicians have been poisoned or shot, or have mysteriously disappeared, during Putin’s presidency.
The legacy of the Russian leader, Cole said Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” makes Trump’s comments problematic.
“I think that rhetoric was not appropriate,” he said. “I think really it hurt the president, and frankly ... [it’s] just not good when the president mischaracterizes who we are as a country and a people.”
Cole joins a small number of Republican lawmakers pushing back on the remarks. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also rejected the comparison.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said during an interview on ABC News’ “This Week” that he failed to see any similarities between Russia and the U.S.
“There is no moral equivalency between the United States of America, the greatest freedom-loving nation in the history of the world, and the murderous thugs that are in Putin’s defense of his cronyism,” he said Sunday.
Still, Vice President Mike Pence defended Trump’s comments on Sunday and refused to call America’s actions “morally superior” to Russia’s.
“What the president is determined to do, as someone who has spent a lifetime looking for deals, is to see if we can have a new relationship with Russia and other countries that advances the interests of America first,” Pence said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
The president has repeatedly allied himself with the Russian leader.
“I think our country has done plenty of killing, too,” Trump said on “Morning Joe” in 2015 after host Joe Scarborough alleged that Putin “kills journalists” who disagree with him.