Republicans and Democrats alike sounded off on U.S. President Donald Trump‘s fierce defence of Russia this week — but they might not be able to do much more.
Trump met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland on Monday. Much of the discussion, unsurprisingly, surrounded Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian collusion in the 2016 U.S. election.
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Both on Twitter and during press conferences, Trump criticized U.S. intelligence agencies and sided with Putin, who has insisted his country did not meddle in the elections.
Politicians from across the political spectrum slammed Trump for his words.
Among them was Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who tweeted that it’s time Congress “take back our authorities.” He did not offer details on what exactly he was talking about.
But can U.S. politicians and officials do anything other than offer sharp rebuttals of Trump’s words? Not really.
The president has repeatedly bashed the Mueller probe, both online and in person, but University of Toronto professor Aurel Braun says there is little that can be done about rhetoric, even though it does “inflame matters.”
“Are they going to make him take the words back?” Braun asked, referring to Trump’s criticism of the Mueller probe.
Like any other American, the president also has rights to free speech under the First Amendment.
What politicians can do — and many notable ones such as Sen. John McCain have done — is mount pressure for Trump to clarify or apologize. But as seen in the past, that’s not necessarily Trump’s style as he tends to go off-script.
Some politicians have also tried to protect the Mueller investigation amid Trump’s repeated attacks.
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In April, a U.S. Senate panel also approved a bill to protect Mueller from being fired by the president. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wouldn’t let the bill reach Senate floor.
There are often more options when the president’s actions contain policy and not just words, for example, controversial tariffs.
In June, Republican and Democratic U.S. senators introduced legislation that would force Trump to obtain Congress’ approval before imposing tariffs on national security grounds.
Politicians can’t muzzle what the president says, and Twitter (upon being pressed by the public) said that it won’t either.
“Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate,” the social media giant said in a January blog post.
“It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.”
Picking out the policy from Trump’s rhetoric can be difficult, but Braun says there needs to be a greater focus on that by U.S. officials and the media.
“It’s not just that one can dismiss rhetoric entirely and words have no meaning, but words are not necessarily the same as policy,” he said.
Braun explained that Trump actually sided with the U.S. in several policy matters during his press conference with Putin.
“What did he do in terms of policy? What did he give away? He’s not lifting the sanctions, he’s not accepting the annexation of Crimea, he’s not giving Russia money.”
Many of the things he is pushing for, such as increased NATO spending, are in line with what previous U.S. presidents have said, Braun pointed out.
“He is vulgar, he is confrontational, he is unpleasant — but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is wrong.”
— With files from The Associated Press
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