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Republicans In Congress React To Trump's Russia Statements

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The White House has spent much of this week trying to clarify the president's stance on Russian interference in U.S. elections. This morning, the president is trying to change the conversation. He has tweeted that Democrats want to abolish ICE, that the fake news media wants to push a confrontation with Russia and that he's got a big jobs meeting coming up today. All of this comes at a crucial time, the peak of summer campaign season ahead of the November elections. And joining us now is Kelsey Snell, who covers Congress for NPR.

Hi, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hey, there.

GREENE: So the president is trying to blame the fake news media for wanting a confrontation with Russia. But aren't there members of both parties on Capitol Hill who are actually pushing a confrontation with Russia even today?

SNELL: Yeah. Standing up to Russia is very much on the minds of Congress, and this is not a partisan issue. All the pieces of legislation and resolutions that deal with Russia right now, particularly in the Senate, have Republican co-sponsors. Later today, we're expecting Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona and Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, to offer a resolution to back the U.S. intelligence community and ask for hearings on the president's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Now, we don't know that this is actually going to get approved. It would only take one senator to object to it for this not to pass, but this is definitely a bipartisan effort. And that's in addition to other bills that are out there that would - bipartisan bills - to make more sanctions available to Congress to put on Russia if there's interference in a future election.

GREENE: OK. So a lot of concern about Russian election interference on the Hill, even as the president seems to be trying to change the conversation.

SNELL: Yeah.

GREENE: He is saying the Democrats have a, quote, "death wish" by wanting to abolish ICE. He said this should cost them heavily in the midterms. You have Republicans overwhelmingly passing this bill supporting ICE. Can you tell me what the backstory is to all of this?

SNELL: Yeah. Yesterday, the House passed this resolution. It's nonbinding, and it just basically says that they support ICE and the agents at ICE. Democrats largely didn't vote on this bill. They voted present, which means they're sitting out voting yes or no. And it was kind of a political move by Republicans to embarrass Democrats, who have a wing of their party who wants to abolish ICE. The party as a whole doesn't have a position on this. But the president tweeting this kind of proves the point that Republicans were trying to make - is that they can make hay out of this portion of the Democratic Party moving further to the left. And they think it helps them in elections.

GREENE: So help me understand what the party wants to talk about right now. I mean, on the Hill, they want to do things to confront Russia. But it's been a tough week for the president. Are Republicans ready to just change the subject and get away from Russia as quickly as they can?

SNELL: Well, in the Senate, they absolutely want to change the subject back to Brett Kavanaugh, who is in the process of having meetings for his confirmation to be on the Supreme Court. And in the House, they want to talk about how successful their tax cuts were and how good the job growth numbers are. I mean, they don't want to be talking about Russia. But frankly, there are enough Republicans in the Senate and in the House who are concerned about Russian meddling in the election. And it's going to be much harder for them to avoid it if the president keeps bringing it up and these confrontations continue.

GREENE: All right, NPR's Kelsey Snell, who covers Congress for us. Kelsey, thanks as always.

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