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Republicans Push Hard Line on Russia While Defending Trump’s NATO Comments

Senator Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina, said on Sunday that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was a “murderous dictator” responsible for the death of the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, and that “we need strong leadership coming from America that actually pushes back against Russia and other dictators.”

Then Mr. Scott followed up with the leap of logic that many ambitious Republicans have employed in trying to toe a tough line on Russia while pledging fealty to a former president who has done the opposite. He said the one man for that job was Donald J. Trump.

“Unfortunately, Joe Biden is not up for that charge and Donald Trump is,” Mr. Scott, who has been mentioned as a potential running mate for Mr. Trump, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Mr. Scott’s comments on the Sunday television circuit were a reflection of the fear that congressional Republicans with political ambitions have of alienating Mr. Trump and his base: They purport to take a hard line against Russia while being careful not to say anything that could antagonize the former president.

Mr. Trump has recently said he would encourage Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to NATO allies that do not contribute sufficiently to collective defense. And during the 2016 election, Mr. Trump’s campaign sought close contacts with Russian government officials who were helping him get elected, according to a bipartisan congressional report.

On Sunday, Representative Michael R. Turner, Republican of Ohio and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that it was “very, very important for the United States to stand strong and stand with Ukraine.” He warned of the effects of allowing Russia to continue its aggression, noting that it would “jeopardize other areas of Europe.”

But when pressed about Mr. Trump’s recent comment encouraging Russia to attack NATO allies, he downplayed it and defended the former president. “This is what I know,” Mr. Turner said. “Donald Trump’s political rallies don’t really translate into Donald Trump’s actual policies.”

He added, “If you look at his policies, if you look at his record, he actually increased funding for NATO, increased the European Reassurance Initiative,” which bolsters the readiness of forces in Europe.

Mr. Scott, for his part, also ignored the fact that Mr. Trump has remained silent in the days after Mr. Navalny’s death, avoiding a question from Jake Tapper of CNN on Sunday about why that was and whether he wanted Mr. Trump to say something.

“I think a better question is, let’s look at the middle of the challenges we face today,” he said. “What you see front and center is the failure of Joe Biden.”

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said that he wanted to make Russia “pay a price for killing Navalny” by designating the country as a state sponsor of terrorism.

“They deserve this designation,” he said. “Putin’s been killing people, opposition leaders, for decades now. He’s dismembered Syria. He’s one of the world’s worst actors and an indicted war criminal.”

But Mr. Graham has also been defending Mr. Trump’s comments about NATO. And he voted against a Senate foreign aid package sending funding to Ukraine, saying he would support critical aid for Kyiv only if it were in the form of a loan, an idea pitched by Mr. Trump.

The former president has opposed sending more aid to Ukraine, putting pressure on Speaker Mike Johnson to block from the House floor a $95 billion assistance package for Israel and Ukraine that the Senate overwhelmingly passed last week.

Mr. Johnson said last week that Mr. Navalny’s death was “emblematic of Putin’s global pattern of silencing critics and eliminating opponents out of fear of dissent.” He added that “as Congress debates the best path forward to support Ukraine, the United States, and our partners, must be using every means available to cut off Putin’s ability to fund his unprovoked war in Ukraine.”

But Mr. Johnson has also suggested that he has no intention of allowing the bill to receive a vote on the House floor.

Liz Cheney, a former Republican representative from Wyoming whose criticism of Mr. Trump led to her ousting from Congress, said the best way to deter Mr. Putin was for the House to pass the bill.

“One man, one man has the power to get that done, and that’s Mike Johnson,” Ms. Cheney said on “State of the Union.”

She said the bill could be on President Biden’s desk awaiting his signature tomorrow if Mr. Johnson chose to bring it to the floor for a vote.

“Mike Johnson ought to search deep in his conscience,” Ms. Cheney said, adding: “He has said, and I take him at his word, that he believes God has told him that he’s called to be Moses. I think Mike Johnson ought to look at whether or not this is actually that moment.”

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