Tom Cotton battles ABC's Stephanopoulos: 'If you want to talk to Trump, have him on your show'

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Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. was repeatedly asked Sunday by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos to bash former President Trump during an interview on the U.S. response to Russia invading Ukraine, 

Cotton urged President Biden to react with more severe measures against Vladimir Putin and send weapons to the Ukrainians, during an interview on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” But the Republican’s harsh assessment of the Biden administration’s handling of this crisis did not please Stephanopoulos, a former Bill Clinton aide, who spent the rest of the interview trying to get Cotton to criticize Trump. 

The interview started off focused on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, before becoming contentious. 

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counterterrorism operations on Capitol Hill 
(Patrick Semansky)

Cotton called on the president to punish Putin with more drastic sanctions, such as on Russia’s oil and gas exports. He also pressed the administration to heed his plea from “weeks ago” to “rush” weapons to the Ukrainians.


“We can do more than prayers and hashtags and lighting up buildings, George. It’s time for the president and some of our European partners to stop pussyfooting around. The financial sanctions announced last night are riddled with loopholes. I know they say they sanctioned 80% of the banks in Russia, but Vladimir Putin controls 100% of the banks in Russia. He can use the other 20% to continue to finance his war machine,” he said, calling for more immediate assistance to Ukraine and for all Russian banks to be removed from the international payment system.

But things took a turn after Cotton criticized White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki telling Stephanopoulos that the “mistake, we all probably make” is believing that Putin follows the “global norms and beliefs” the rest of the world follows. The Arkansas senator slammed this notion, saying Putin’s reasoning for invading Ukraine was “not a surprise” and that he perceived weakness in our leadership.

President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, arrive to meet at the ‘Villa la Grange’, in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. 
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

“What Vladimir Putin said on Monday night was not a surprise. He published the exact same arguments about Ukraine in an essay last summer. That’s why I’ve been urging the administration to take the threat that Putin posed to Ukraine and international peace and stability seriously, to start imposing these sanctions weeks and months ago, to start sending these missiles and weapons and ammunition to Ukraine weeks ago,” Cotton said.

But the ABC News anchor bristled at Cotton’s condemnation of the Biden administration, pivoting to repeatedly asking for Cotton to condemn Trump’s comments on Putin.

“You’ve never made that mistake, it’s true. You’ve been stalwart in your opposition of Vladimir Putin. The same cannot be said for the leader of your party, Donald Trump. Last night he finally condemned the invasion but he also repeated his praise of Putin, calling him smart. Earlier in the week, he called him pretty smart. He called him savvy. He says NATO and the U.S. are dumb. Are you prepared to condemn that kind of rhetoric from the leader of your party?” Stephanopoulos grilled.

President Joe Biden and ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos
(AP/Getty Images)

But the senator refused to discuss Republicans who’ve been accused by the left of being weak on Russia. He recalled how Republicans supplied the Ukrainians with weapons when the last Democrat president would not. 

“George, you’ve heard what I had to say about Vladimir Putin. That he’s a ruthless dictator who’s launched a naked, unprovoked war of aggression. Thankfully the Ukrainian army has anti-tank missiles that President Obama would not supply that we did supply last time Republicans were in charge in Washington. That’s why it’s so urgent that we continue to supply those weapons to Ukraine,” Cotton responded.

Frustrated, Stephanopoulos remarked, “Why can’t you condemn Donald Trump for those comments?” 

Cotton said he does not “speak on behalf of other politicians” and if he wants to get Trump’s thoughts on Putin, he should “have him on [his] show.”

Stephanopoulos pushed Cotton to condemn Trump’s compliments to Putin two more times, before asking the GOP senator if he could still support Trump in 2024.

“George, I’m not worried about this fall’s election right now, much less an election two years from now. I’m focused on the naked war of aggression that Vladimir Putin has launched in Ukraine right now. There’s not a moment to lose. We can worry about electoral politics down the road,” Cotton said.

Clearly agitated, Stephanopoulos gave one last attempt as the interview wrapped. “I simply don’t understand why you can’t condemn his praise of Vladimir Putin!” he said.

Cotton stayed on message, decrying Putin as a “ruthless dictator for years” that “too many people have not taken” as a serious threat. “That’s why you see the images we see in Ukraine now. Where we need to focus is on stopping that aggression, supporting the Ukrainians as best we can.”

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