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Susan Page and Stuart Rothenberg on Trump and Putin reactions

Susan Page of USA Today and Stu Rothenberg of Inside Elections join Judy Woodruff to discuss the fallout from President Trump’s statements on Russia in Helsinki, especially from congressional Republicans.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    More now on the reaction to President Trump's press conference with Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

    And to Amna Nawaz.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, as we heard, the president's statements this morning prompted tough words from members of his own party.

    We break down the politics now with Susan Page of USA Today and Stuart Rothenberg of Inside Elections.

    Welcome to you both.

    We heard the criticism earlier from the president's own party members there. The natural next question seems to be, and what are you going to do about it?

    So, Stu, what are the Republicans going to do about it?

  • Stuart Rothenberg:

    Well, this could be the straw that breaks the camel's back, but I think it's more likely not the case for Republicans.

    We saw earlier in the program Rand Paul not really criticizing the president. I have a press release here from Lamar Alexander saying: "There's no doubt Russia interfered in our 2016 presidential election," and that's about it. No specific criticism of the president.

    I get the sense that Jeff Flake, John McCain — Mitt Romney issued a statement, Ben Sasse. These are the outliers in the Republican Party.


  • Stuart Rothenberg:

    And I think you're going to find Republicans continue to support the president. I guess we will see.

  • Susan Page:

    Remarkable when you say McCain and Romney are the outliers in this party. Of course, they're the last two presidential nominees of the Republican Party. But it is no longer their Republican Party. It is now Donald Trump's Republican Party.

    And it's proved to be very difficult to shake the hold that Trump has had in a party that's been redefined in his own image, now, most notably, in attitudes against Russia.

    If there's one thing that characterized Republican politics in the past, it's been a pretty hard line on Russia. We certainly didn't hear that today.

  • Stuart Rothenberg:

    Just to add — that's terrific points.


  • Stuart Rothenberg:

    Just to add, I was looking at a Pew Research Center survey — actually, a series of surveys from 2015 to 2018. And the attitudes toward Vladimir Putin have changed significantly among Republicans.

    They're much more approving of him — or less disapproval of Vladimir Putin and less criticism of Russia as a threat to U.S. interests. So it's remarkable how the president's attitudes towards Putin have filtered down in the party and really changed the GOP

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But there is a consensus now — let's look ahead to 2018. We're less than four months away now from the midterms, right?

    There's consensus among both leaders, Republican and Democrat, on the Hill, Russia interfered in 2016. They continue to do so looking forward to future elections, too.

    How does that matter moving forward now, hearing what we heard from the president today and the fact that Republican and Democratic leaders agree they are continuing to interfere?

  • Susan Page:

    I don't think this is a voting issue for Americans.

    I mean, I think it's a huge challenge for our democracy generally, but if you look at the things on which people are going to vote in 2018 in the midterms, just, as you say, getting so close, I think it is going to be things like health care and the economy and some of the traditional things that either energize people to get to vote or not to do so.

    I actually think the Supreme Court is a bigger voting issue in November than Russia meddling. Go forward two years to the 2020 race, where we think President Trump will be seeking reelection, and then I think perhaps it become a bigger issue.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, it may not matter to voters, but, Stu, what about to Republican leadership? Should they be making a bigger deal of the fact that Russia continues to interfere in this way?

  • Stuart Rothenberg:

    Well, maybe they should be. But the reality is, they're so linked to the president, and they want to avoid criticism of the president.

    Yes, you're right, they want — they're willing to criticize the Russians and Russian interference, but I just don't think they want to get into the weeds on this. And I think they're looking at other issues that they hope will be more important in 2018.

  • Susan Page:

    I do think there's one thing.

    I don't think we're going to see a big investigation, some new effort on the part of Republican congressional leaders. I do think this is a little bit of job security for Robert Mueller. I think it makes it a little bit harder for President Trump to try to in some way fire the special counsel. And that may be one effect from today's news conference.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We heard strong language from leaders in both parties, older members in both parties, shameful, disgraceful, treasonous.

    Is there anything different about this moment? You have talked about being critical of the president before. Is there anything different about this moment that you might think even lead Republicans to try to launch a challenge against President Trump?

  • Susan Page:

    I think that's hard to do with this party.

    President Trump's approval rating among Republicans is almost 90 percent. The only time a Republican at this stage in his presidency has had stronger approval within his own party was George W. Bush immediately after the 9/11 attacks.

    So I think it's not that it's impossible there will be a challenge or even a serious challenge, but I think this is Donald Trump's Republican Party for the time being.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You agree?

  • Stuart Rothenberg:

    This was a pretty dramatic event today, pretty dramatic press conference. A lot of gasps after the fact and, wow, I have never seen anything like this. I keep saying that every week. I say, I have never seen anything like this.

    But I guess I agree with Susan about the nature of the Republican Party and their commitment to Trump. And, no, I don't think it's very clear, at this point, that there is some sort of revolt with — inside the Republican Party coming.

    It could happen over time. And, look, for the midterm elections, the Democrats don't need a full-scale Republican revolt. They just need to win swing voters, turn out Democratic voters. And any leakage from the Republican side is a plus for the Democrats.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Talk to me a little bit about some of the dissonance we're seeing just within the administration now.

    You have President Trump going out there and basically saying he believes President Putin. And then you have his homeland security secretary over the weekend saying, we know that Russia is interfering.

    How do you square those two things, Stu?

  • Stuart Rothenberg:

    I think Donald Trump is a bit of an outlier, and yet he's the president of the United States.

    I mean, you know, what can you say? He has his own views. And he will be criticized indirectly, but nobody's taking him on directly. We can't find very many members of his own party that are as outraged. That's the thing. There's no outrage.

    Even when Lamar Alexander and John Cornyn from Texas make statements about the Russians interfering in the election, there's no outrage. And that's a problem.

    Yes, sure, you can look at administration officials. But if the president isn't taking decisive action and doesn't express a sense of anger, I don't think anything gets done.

  • Susan Page:

    The president cannot be an outlier in his administration.

  • Stuart Rothenberg:


  • Susan Page:

    The president defines his administration.

    But you see this division with some of his top staffers also on the issue of NATO. The president came to this news conference, and one of the things that made it so striking was his language and his posture toward Vladimir Putin was so much friendlier than his posture had been toward our NATO allies.

    After the NATO summit, you had administration officials going back to NATO allies, saying, we're still committed to NATO. But, you know, this is just President Trump. And then he does the news conference today and undermines that message.

  • Stuart Rothenberg:

    The damage is done. He does the damage, and everybody tries to clean up.

    Well, the president — what the president says matters more than anybody else.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We will have to leave it there.

    Susan Page, Stuart Rothenberg, thanks for your time.

  • Stuart Rothenberg:

    Thank you.

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