GOP Sen. Tom Cotton won't condemn Trump's Putin praise: 'I don't speak on behalf of other politicians'

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) was given four chances to denounce former President Donald Trump's praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin amid his invasion of Ukraine, and turned down each one.

During an appearance Sunday on ABC's This Week, host George Stephanopoulos asked Cotton about Trump's commendation of Putin in recent days. Last Tuesday, Trump told conservative radio hosts Clay Travis and Buck Sexton that it was "wonderful," "so smart," and "genius" of Putin to declare "a big portion" Ukraine "as independent." He also declared that Putin has "the strongest peace force I've ever seen" and "we could use that on our southern border." At the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday night, Trump condemned the invasion, but said the "problem is not that Putin is smart, which of course he's smart. But the real problem is that our leaders are dumb."

When asked by Stephanopoulos about the comments, Cotton responded, "George, if you want to know what Donald Trump thinks about Vladimir Putin or any other topic, I'd encourage you to invite him on your show. I don't speak on behalf of other politicians. They can speak for themselves."

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Stephanopoulos pressed Cotton, telling him, "You're a senior member of the Republican Party. Donald Trump is the leader of the Republican Party. ... Why can't you condemn that? I feel quite confident ... that if Barack Obama or Joe Biden said something like that, you'd be first in line to criticize them."

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Cotton again encouraged Stephanopoulos to invite Trump on his show, to which Stephanopoulos responded, "I simply don't understand why you can't condemn his praise of Vladimir Putin." Cotton repeated his earlier refusals, saying, "I don't speak on behalf of other politicians, they can all speak for themselves."

Cotton said he has been "clear" about Putin being "a ruthless dictator for years," and said he agreed with Stephanopoulos' earlier guest, Ukrainian Ambassador Oksana Markarova, who called on American businesses to cease investing in Russian-owned enterprises. "We can do more than prayers and hashtags and lighting up buildings, George," Cotton said, before criticizing President Biden and European leaders.

"It's time for the president and some of our European partners to quit pussyfooting around," he said, arguing that it's time to "remove all Russian financial institutions from the international payment system" and rush "anti-tank, anti-aircraft missiles, sniper rifles ammunition, [and] fuel supplies" to Ukrainian fighters.

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.