With President Obama back in the U.S. after his trip to South Korea, Speaker John A. Boehner sent him a letter demanding answers about comments he made to the president of Russia earlier this week that were caught on a hot mic.
In the lengthy letter, Mr. Boehner said he was particularly alarmed about the message Mr. Obama's comments sent to incoming Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"I and other members of the House have previously expressed concern about your administration's apparent willingness to make unilateral concessions to Russia that undermine our missile defense capabilities," the Ohio Republican wrote. "Your comments reinforce these worries."
On Monday at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, Mr. Obama leaned over and whispered to outgoing Russian President Dmitri Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” to deal with controversial issues such as missile defense after the 2012 elections, and said Mr. Putin needs to give him some “space” when he takes office in May.
Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney seized on the remarks, arguing that Russia is "without question our No. 1 foe."
"They fight every cause for the world's worst actors," he said. "The idea that he has more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed."
Mr. Boehner raised similar concerns and reminded the president that the House passed legislation prohibiting the administration from making any agreements to diminish U.S. missile defense capacity without congressional authority or treaty.
"The Russian government has not lived up to its obligations to support the world community in reining in the rogue nations of Iran, Syria, and North Korea," he wrote. "On the contrary, Russia has at times offered support for these dangerous regimes. And it is increasingly evident that Russia is intent on expanding its boundaries through hostile acts - including invading a neighboring American ally."
Mr. Obama addressed the issue at the summit and attempted to clarify his remarks.
"Arms control is extraordinarily complex, very technical, and the only way it gets done is if you can consult and build a strong understanding, both between countries and within countries," he said. "I don't think it's any surprise that you can't start that a few months before presidential and congressional elections in the United States, and at a time when they just completed elections in Russia [EnLeader] The only way I get this stuff done is if I'm consulting with the Pentagon, with Congress, if I've got bipartisan support and frankly, the current environment is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful consultations."
But Mr. Boehner said the explanation gave him little solace, arguing that the president conflated the issue of missile defense with the separate matter of Russia's nuclear weapons program.
"I ask that you explain what greater 'flexibility' on missile defense you were suggesting Mr. Putin could expect in a second term," he wrote. "With Congress' expressed interest in this matter and America's objective of preventing rogue states from launching missile strikes, it is important to know what changes you are contemplating or offering. Further, what actions does your administration believe the Russians have taken that warrant any change in our missile defense policy?"
Mr. Boehner concluded the letter by demanding Mr. Obama clarify what he meant or report any planned concessions to Russia on missile defense to the appropriate congressional committees.
"A misguided missile defense policy would have far-reaching consequences, and any concessions you may have under consideration require an open and thorough justification," he continued. "A post-election surprise on this critical issue would not be welcomed by the American people, the Congress, or the world community."
Earlier this week, Mr. Boehner refrained from joining fellow Republicans in criticizing Mr. Obama over the hot mic comments.
"When the president is overseas," Mr. Boehner told reporters, "I think it's appropriate that people not be critical of him or our country."
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Susan Crabtree is an award-winning investigative reporter with more than 15 years of reporting experience in Washington, D.C. Her reporting about bribery, corruption and conflict-of-interest issues on Capitol Hill has led to several FBI and ethics investigations, as well as consequences for members within their caucuses and at the ballot box. Susan can be reached at email@example.com.
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