Just weeks before he takes office, President-elect Donald Trump is under fire from both sides of the aisle for his perceived soft stance toward the Kremlin, with key lawmakers urging him to take a harder line and establish “boundaries” against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Their comments Sunday underscore how isolated Mr. Trump has become in his position on Moscow as calls from Republicans and Democrats to push back against Mr. Putin grows louder by the day.
“What Vladimir Putin needs is a sense of new boundaries,” Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, told “Fox News Sunday.”
Mr. Cotton blasted Russia for its suspected hacking during the U.S. election cycle last year, for its invasion of Ukraine and for its backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad. He said Mr. Putin has not been held accountable for those actions.
“He’s had a free rein throughout the world over the last eight years,” Mr. Cotton said. “He needs to have a sense of boundaries to know that costs are going to be imposed if he crosses those boundaries.”
Mr. Trump remains unconvinced that Russian actors were behind a massive email hack of the Democratic Party and officials with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The Obama administration says those hacks were carried out to help Mr. Trump capture the White House.
The administration announced last week that it would expel dozens of Russian diplomats, shutter two Russian facilities in the U.S. and apply economic sanctions against Moscow.
Mr. Putin said he would not retaliate and instead would wait out the Obama administration and deal with Mr. Trump when he assumes office Jan. 20. The Russian president went so far as to invite the children of American diplomats stationed in Russia to visit the Kremlin for the holidays.
Unlike the vast majority of lawmakers in Washington, Mr. Trump remains unconvinced that Russia was behind the hacks. He vowed this weekend to get more information before drawing any final conclusions and suggested that he is privy to details that are not publicly known.
“I just want them to be sure, because it’s a pretty serious charge and I want them to be sure,” the president-elect told reporters on Saturday. “And I know a lot about hacking, and hacking is a very hard thing to prove. So it could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people don’t know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation.”
Mr. Trump said he would release more information this week, though he did not offer any details about what he knows.
It’s unclear whether a Trump White House will enforce the Obama administration’s latest penalties against Russia. Reversing them would appear as an olive branch from the new president to his Russian counterpart.
But lawmakers say they will fight the Trump administration if it tries to ease pressure on Russia.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said last month that Russia must be held accountable and that they will find willing partners across the aisle if they want to take more aggressive action.
“You’re going to see Democrats, and Republicans like McCain and Graham, and others come together with a strong sanctions package because, frankly, even though what the administration did was more than symbolic — it was very meaningful — it is not enough to deter Russia,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Mr. Schiff promised a vigorous response from Capitol Hill if Mr. Trump takes apart the Obama administration’s sanctions against Russia. In fact, he said, Congress is prepared to go further.
“We think that more has to be done,” Mr. Schiff said. “We don’t think that, frankly, the steps that have been taken are enough of a deterrent, and you’re going to see bipartisan support in Congress for stronger sanctions.”
Mr. Trump’s incoming press secretary, former Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer, said Sunday that there is a clear double standard in how the Obama administration has handled foreign hacking.
He said the White House never formally blamed China for the 2015 hack of the federal Office of Personnel Management, which compromised the personal data of millions of Americans, suggesting that the Obama administration is retaliating against Russia for purely political reasons.
“No action publicly was taken. Nothing, nothing was taken when millions of people had their private information, including information on security clearances that was shared. Not one thing happened” after the OPM hack, Mr. Spicer said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “So there is a question about whether there’s a political retribution here versus a diplomatic response.”
Mr. Spicer also said the president-elect intends to mend fences with Moscow.
“This president is going to have a relationship with Russia, and understand that it’s in America’s interest to have a relationship with Russia where they don’t pose a threat to our national economic interests,” he said.