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Putin not welcome in Congress if he visits Washington, leaders say

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during their bilateral meeting focused on Syria and Ukraine at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on March 24, 2016. (U.S. State Department)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The leaders of the U.S. Congress, citing Russia’s alleged interference in U.S. elections, say they will not invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to address Congress or visit the Capitol if he accepts President Donald Trump’s invitation to a second summit in Washington this fall.

On July 24, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell both rejected any friendly outreach to Putin and expressed disagreement with Trump’s embrace of the Russian president in the wake of their one-day summit on July 16 in Helsinki.

Ryan and McConnell said they had no plans to ask Putin to address a joint session of Congress, a typical honor for visiting foreign leaders.

“We would certainly not be giving him an invitation to do a joint session,” Ryan said. “That’s something we reserve for allies.”

“The speaker and I have made it clear that Putin will not be welcome up here at the Capitol,” McConnell said.

Their comments came as a top Kremlin aide on July 24 said that Putin was waiting for the “dust to settle” over his controversial meeting with Trump in Helsinki before deciding whether to take up Trump’s offer of a second summit.

Yuri Ushakov, citing a desire not to inflame what he described as an already “overheated” U.S. political situation, said no preparations were being made to visit Washington and Putin would be open to meeting with Trump in other venues, such as a Group of 20 (G20) summit in Argentina this fall.

The congressional leaders cited what they said were Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election in shunning any embrace of the Russian leader.

The U.S. intelligence community and a U.S. special counsel have concluded that Russia used a campaign of spreading propaganda on social media and hacking Democratic documents to try to aid Trump’s candidacy and hurt his opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Moreover, intelligence officials have warned that Moscow is working to meddle once again in this year’s congressional elections.

“The Russians better quit messing around in our elections. They did it the last time. They better not do it again,” McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill, adding that he was open to legislation to put more pressure on Moscow after Congress enacted a bill imposing tough sanctions on Russia over its alleged 2016 election meddling a year ago.

Wave Of Criticism

Ryan said he does not have a problem with Trump sitting down with foreign leaders like Putin, as long as he is delivering the right message.

“If the message is, ‘Stop meddling in our country, stop violating our sovereignty,’ then I support that. But it’s the message that counts,” Ryan told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Trump faced a bipartisan tidal wave of criticism after a news conference with Putin in Helsinki where he gave credence to Putin’s denials of Russian interference while seeming to question the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies.

Putin acknowledged at the news conference that he wanted Trump to win the election, though he denied doing anything to bring that about.

Trump has called the summit a success and invited Putin to visit Washington in the autumn.

Besides McConnell and Ryan, other prominent congressional Republicans do not share Trump’s upbeat views of Putin.

“I’m suspicious of everything Putin does,” said Representative Mac Thornberry (Republican-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (Republican-Arizona) has called Putin a “tyrant” and “America’s enemy.”

With reporting by AP and Reuters