It's hard not to wonder what they were thinking. Eight Republican members of Congress -- seven senators and one House member -- traveled to Moscow ahead of the July 4th holiday, sounding a "conciliatory tone," even as their colleagues released a report on the Russian attack on the American elections in 2016.
Rather than taking a firm stand against Russian aggression, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and has limited foreign policy responsibilities, told a leading official in Moscow, "I'm not here today to accuse Russia of this or that or so forth."
At the Federation Council, Russia's upper house of parliament, the Alabama Republican added, "We know that we need a new beginning, that we can go over recriminations on both sides for days in. But I believe Russia and the United States and the world will be a lot better off if we improve our relationship."
The key phrase was "both sides" -- as if, in Richard Shelby's mind, Russia can credibly accuse the United States of having damaged relations.
The weakness did not go unnoticed. The Washington Post reported overnight:
Members of the delegation set off on their trip late last week promising to be tough with Russian officials ahead of the president's visit, especially on matters of election interference. But they struck a conciliatory tone once there. [...]On Russian state television, presenters and guests mocked the U.S. congressional delegation for appearing to put a weak foot forward, noting how the message of tough talk they promised in Washington "changed a bit" by the time they got to Moscow.
Duma member Vyacheslav Nikonov added on Tuesday that he's met with many American lawmakers before, but this week's meeting "was one of the easiest ones in my life."
Congratulations to these seven GOP lawmakers. It's not easy to generate mockery in two hemispheres simultaneously, but they managed to find a way.
As we discussed yesterday, there are widespread concerns among U.S. officials about Putin's government launching another intelligence operation against our political system this year. The more Russia thinks it can get away with these attacks, the more emboldened it will be to launch them.
And yet, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), and Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) traveled to Moscow, signaled weakness, and balked when it came to making accusations about "this or that or so forth."
After all, "both sides" can make "recriminations."
When it comes to Russia, it's clearly Donald Trump's party.