Politics & Government

Rand Paul and Donald Trump bond over Trump’s performance with Putin

Sen. Rand Paul, recounting the attack, described suffering “like the pain of a thousand knives.”
Sen. Rand Paul, recounting the attack, described suffering “like the pain of a thousand knives.” AP

The senator who once dubbed Donald Trump an “orange-faced windbag” and the president — who derided Rand Paul as “truly weird” — are now fast friends, thanks to Paul’s support for Trump’s performance in talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Trump and Paul had clashed bitterly during the presidential campaign but they’ve forged a mutual admiration society in recent days as the Kentucky Republican has proven a rare ray of enthusiastic Republican support for the embattled president. Paul has likened Trump’s diplomacy to Ronald Reagan’s success with Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Trump has in turn lauded Paul.

“Thank you @RandPaul, you really get it!” the president tweeted.

During the summit in Helsinki, a reporter asked President Trump about United States agencies concluding that Russia meddling in the U.S. 2016 presidential election. Trump revealed that Vladimir Putin strongly denied interference in their talks.

Paul told reporters at the Capitol that he spoke with Trump Tuesday and expects to discuss the Russia summit with him at the White House in coming weeks.

“There are some small kind of baby steps that we could do to try to improve relations with Russia,” Paul said, noting he’s interested in improving cultural exchanges between the two countries. “They don’t even feel comfortable sending museum artifacts to us or vice versa,” he said.

Trump needs Paul on his side, because the senator could potentially complicate the process for Trump’s second Supreme Court pick.

Paul told “Fox & Friends” on Sunday that he has concerns about nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s views on government surveillance programs.

Paul told the show he’s undecided on Kavanaugh’s nomination at the moment, posing a potential hurdle for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has a slim majority to work with in the Senate amid Democratic opposition to Kavanaugh. Republicans control 51 of the Senate’s 100 seats.

The president did partially retreat Tuesday from remarks he made at a press conference with Putin after a barrage of criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike. Trump said he accepts U.S. intelligence findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election — more than 24 hours after seemingly siding with Putin’s denials.

Paul said Trump’s Tuesday comments were prompted by what he said were unfair critiques by the media, the left and neo-conservatives.

“He’s getting it all from all sides,” Paul said. And he said the president is sensitive about the special counsel’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign was involved in the Russian election meddling.

“He’s very concerned, as I am, that the intelligence agencies ... were partisan,” Paul said.

Paul called the criticism directed at Trump for the meeting with Putin in Finland a reflection of “how unhinged people are in their hatred for the president.

“People have gone off the deep edge on this,” Paul said, adding that Trump was criticized for agreeing to the summit before it was even held.

“My point is, ‘Yes, you should meet with your adversaries,” he said. “Who are these people up here who want no conversation with Putin? That is incredibly naive and dangerous to the world to have people so crazy about Trump that they want no diplomacy and no discussion with Russia.”

Paul’s comments came at the end of a day that began with a “CBS This Morning” interview. The senator defended Trump’s criticism of the investigation into Russian election meddling, arguing that Trump was “sensitive” after 18 months of what he called an “onslaught of partisan investigations.”

Trump took notice, tweeting in favor of Paul’s remarks that Trump “has gone through a year and a half of totally partisan investigations - what’s he supposed to think?”

Paul was an enthusiastic supporter of Trump’s decision to meet with Putin in the first place, writing earlier this week in Politico that “dialogue is especially important when hundreds of millions of lives are at stake, as is the case in relations between the United States and nuclear-armed Russia.”

Paul and Trump haven’t always seen eye to eye. During the 2016 campaign, Paul called Trump a “delusional narcissist.” That followed Trump’s description of Paul as a “truly weird Senator” whom he tweeted “reminds me of a spoiled brat without a properly functioning brain. He was terrible at DEBATE!”

And the White House just a few months ago singled Paul out for opposing Trump’s choice to lead the CIA, accusing him of conveying “incorrect information” about nominee Gina Haspel.

Few congressional Republicans Tuesday took Paul’s side. Among them were conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus.

“This president is great at reading people,” said Rep. Ralph Norman, R-South Carolina. “He knows Mr. Putin is not a choir boy, he’s not an angel, he’ll do whatever he can to advance Russia, but I’m glad we got the summit.”

Senate leadership took great pains Tuesday to distance themselves from Trump’s remarks and his critiques of NATO, without critiquing the president.

There is “indisputable evidence” that Russia tried to influence the 2016 election, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

“Make no mistake about it, I would say to our friends in Europe, we understand the Russian threat and I think that is the widespread view here in the United States Senate among members of both parties,” the Kentucky Republican said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, who frequently tangles with the libertarian-leaning Paul on foreign affairs, said he wasn’t surprised by his colleague’s position.

“I’m not shocked that Rand Paul feels that the FBI and CIA are a bigger threat than Russia,” Graham said. “His foreign policy is, I think, out of sync. But if the president is embracing that kind of approach, I think he risks making some serious mistakes.”

Emma Dumain and Brian Murphy contributed to this report.
Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark
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