Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has labored mightily to avoid criticizing President Trump, but two weeks into the new administration, it’s getting harder to downplay their differences.
On Sunday, McConnell told CNN he disagreed with Trump’s view of Russian President Vladimir Putin, questioned the president’s claim of massive voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election and cautioned against the administration going too far with restrictions on travel from predominantly Muslim countries.
McConnell also chided Trump, albeit tacitly, for lambasting a federal judge who ruled against his executive order temporarily banning visitors from Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and Syria from entering the U.S.
The majority leader is adept at deflecting questions and sticking to his talking points when it comes to possible differences with the president.
He prefers to emphasize their shared goals, including the repeal of ObamaCare, comprehensive tax reform and broad regulatory reform.
But Sunday on “State of the Union,” McConnell highlighted several splits with the Trump administration.
He disagreed most pointedly with Trump comparing Russia’s human rights record with that of the United States.
McConnell flatly rejected the comparison on CNN.
“Putin is a former KGB — he’s an agent, he’s a thug,” McConnell said.
“The Russians annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine and messed around in our elections. No, I don’t think there is any equivalency between the way the Russians conduct themselves and the way the United States does.”
It was a stark contrast from what Trump told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly in an interview set to air Sunday before the Super Bowl.
Trump said he respects Putin, although he cautioned that does not mean he’ll get along the Russian leader.
When O’Reilly asserted that “Putin is a killer,” Trump responded, “Well, you think our country is so innocent?”
“There are a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers,” he observed.
This didn’t sit well with McConnell, who on Sunday said, “I obviously don’t see this issue the same way he does.”
McConnell also questioned Trump’s claim, expressed in a meeting with congressional leaders at the White House earlier this month, that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote last because of massive and widespread voter fraud.
The president claimed that 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally and has called for a “major investigation” into voter fraud.
McConnell told CNN’s Jake Tapper that election fraud occurs but “there is no evidence that it occurred in such a significant number that would have changed the presidential election.”
Furthermore, he doesn’t want to spend any federal money on it, undercutting Trump’s demand of a major probe.
“I don’t think we ought to spend any federal money investigating that. I think the states can take a look at this issue,” McConnell said.
He noted that states are in the process of cleaning up voter roles by purging the names of people who have died or are ineligible to vote.
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Source: The Hill