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Pa., N.J. Democrats, Republicans reject Trump comments at Putin summit

Members of both parties supported U.S. intelligence agencies' findings that Russia was, in fact, responsible for a hacking operation that roiled the campaign in an effort to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton — contradicting the president, who raised doubts about that conclusion while standing next to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hand at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018.
U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hand at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018.Read morePABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS / AP

WASHINGTON — Democrats and Republicans from the Philadelphia area rejected President Trump's comments Monday on whether Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, in a rare bipartisan rebuke.

Members of both parties supported U.S. intelligence agencies' findings that Russia was responsible for a hacking operation that roiled the campaign in an effort to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton — contradicting the president, who raised doubts about that conclusion while standing next to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland.

It was an unusually unified response to the polarizing president, signifying the magnitude of Trump's comments on the world stage.

The tenor of the reactions, however, varied. While Democrats and some Republicans, mostly those out of elective politics, responded in dire terms; other GOP lawmakers had more measured reactions that often focused more on Putin than Trump.

There were no signs that the Republicans in control of Congress would take any direct action beyond their statements, though Democrats called on them to do so, and one longtime Republican called for Trump to step down.

"The incoherent and appallingly self-serving circus in Helsinki today was as predictable as it was avoidable. The president rejected his solemn duty to uphold and defend American values, ideals, and citizens," said a statement from Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

He called the news conference "a watershed moment" when "congressional Republicans need to realize these types of global embarrassments are far costlier and more damaging to our nation's standing than having their domestic agenda adopted and signed into law by a president of their own party."

Christie Whitman, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, said Trump should leave office.

"Mr , you should be ashamed," she wrote on Twitter. "Please step down, you are not fit to lead this great ."

Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat running for reelection in a state Trump won, called the news conference "a new low and a profound embarrassment for America."

And Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.), who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, said the evidence he had seen and Friday's indictment of 12 Russians charged with hacking Democratic emails and computers made Russia's intentions clear.

"I strongly disagree [with] statement that Russia did not meddle in 2016 election," LoBiondo, who is retiring, tweeted. "President Trump missed opportunity to hold Putin publicly accountable."

Other Republicans in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey suburbs countered the president's statement that "I don't see any reason why" Russia would have been responsible for the election hacking, but reserved their toughest words for Putin, with whom Trump has sought a warmer relationship.

"As a former FBI special agent, I support our intelligence community, and I stand by their conclusions. President Trump missed the mark today in failing to confront Vladimir Putin on these realities," said a statement from Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.), who is running in a tough reelection race based in Bucks County. "The president must acknowledge that Putin directed Russian actors to interfere and undermine our democratic process. Russia is not our ally and Putin is a KGB thug."

Rep. Tom MacArthur (R., N.J.), who is also in a heated reelection battle, pointed to the recent indictments against Russians by Trump's own Department of Justice.

"The United States, especially the president, should take any foreign government's attempt to influence election results as a threat to our democracy itself," MacArthur said in a statement. "I take issue with President Trump blaming the state of our relationship on our supposed 'foolishness and stupidity.' Our relationship with Russia is strained because of Vladimir Putin's actions."

Both congressmen are running in competitive suburban swing districts, where Trump controversies could be politically damaging, but so could losing the support of a Republican base loyal to the president.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) tweeted that Trump's "blindness to Putin's hostile acts against the U.S. and our allies — election meddling included — is very troubling." In a statement he called Putin "an international pariah" and called on Congress to impose new Russian sanctions unless Putin agrees to extradite the 12 Russians indicted last week.

There have been moments of bipartisan criticism of Trump's behavior before, both during his presidential campaign and since he has taken office. Yet they have rarely led to lasting consequences from elected Republicans.

New controversies quickly sweep away the old ones, and Republicans largely support Trump's agenda, especially on domestic issues like taxes and regulations and, especially, the Supreme Court.

The looming fight over Trump's high court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, is likely to consume attention again this week and is a top priority for conservatives. Trump, meanwhile, said better relations with Russia would be a positive regardless of any political fallout.

"We cannot exclusively focus on the past — as the world's two largest nuclear powers, we must get along!" he tweeted.

Some Democrats hoped this latest conflagration would prompt congressional action.

Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.) called on lawmakers to pass a law preventing Trump from firing special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the probe into Russian interference.

Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) tweeted that Trump's comments add to the reasons to block his Supreme Court pick. Booker, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has raised concerns about how a Trump appointee would rule if a dispute over the special counsel reached the high court.

Sen. Tom Carper (D., Del.) opted for brevity. He tweeted, "Trump trusts Putin. I trust Mueller."