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The price of partisanship: GOP indifferent to Russia's election attack

Three years after Russia's attack on our elections, congressional Republicans no longer seem to care.
The Capitol building at dusk.
The Capitol building at dusk.

Putting aside every political consideration to the Russia scandal, at the heart of the controversy is a simple truth: a foreign adversary attacked the United States. The attack was a sophisticated military intelligence operation, which was expansive and expensive.

As the Russian operation came into focus in the wake of the 2016 election, several Republicans were at least willing to express some outrage over the foreign intervention, even if they were ultimately pleased by the results. But as NBC News' First Read team noted this morning, those GOP concerns appear to have evaporated.

Two and a half years ago, it was easy to find Republicans who were outraged by Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.But today, they're much, much harder to find.And that has been one of the most striking transformations in our politics -- especially after Robert Mueller's congressional testimony this week, and even the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on Russian interference.

It would be problematic if GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill, en masse, pretended that the attack didn't occur, or that Russia somehow wasn't involved in carrying it out. By and large, however, congressional Republicans are at least willing to accept some of the foundational elements of the controversy.

The trouble is, they just don't seem to care.

Tom Nichols, a national security professor at the Naval War College, expressed related concerns in a USA Today op-ed yesterday. Reflecting on Mueller's testimony, Nichols wrote, "The Republicans once prided themselves on being the toughest opponents of America's enemies. They have now been reduced to inane babbling about conspiracy theories, excusing the Russians, whitewashing the hostile foreign intelligence service called WikiLeaks, and attacking a man of indisputable honor and probity -- a fellow Republican, no less -- all in the name of covering Trump's tracks."

At roughly this point two years ago, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a CNN interview, "[T]his is the most serious attack on our country since September 11. An adversary is aiming an arrow at the heart of our democracy. And these folks are just shrugging it off and saying, you know, 'Let's move on and talk about other issues.' I understand their defensiveness on whether they were involved in it or not, but the fundamental story of what the Russians did -- and that they're still at it and will continue to be at it -- is just being ignored, and it really bothers me when the Commander in Chief takes that position."

At the time, King was referring to the White House and administration officials who seemed entirely indifferent to the election interference they'd benefited from a year earlier. Now, however, the Maine senator's criticisms can be easily extended to his Republican colleagues in Congress.

They are, after all, the ones blowing off legislation intended to add new safeguards against the next round of attacks.