GOP pols Sunday claimed President Biden’s remark that Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” played straight into the Russian dictator’s hands — while some European leaders tried to distance themselves from the commander-in-chief’s “gaffe.’’
Meanwhile, Biden administration officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken spent Sunday insisting the US’s aim in Ukraine is not “regime change.”
Biden’s nine words ad-libbed during a speech Saturday in Warsaw, Poland, stole the spotlight from the president’s three-day trip to Europe to bolster NATO allies against the Russian invasion of Ukraine — and sent the White House scrambling to clean up his comments.
“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden said at the end of his 27-minute speech at Warsaw’s Royal Castle.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday that Biden’s comment will soon become part of the Russians’ disinformation campaign about the invasion of Ukraine.
“First, I think all of us believe the world would be a better place without Vladimir Putin. But, second, that’s not the official US policy. And by saying that, that regime change is our strategy eventually, it plays into the hands of the Russian propagandists and plays into the hands of Vladimir Putin,” Portman said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”
“So it was a mistake. And the president recognized that, and the White House has walked it back,” he said.
“But look, we’re in a crisis. We’re in a war situation. And so clarity is incredibly important. And we need to be sure that we are also clear with our NATO allies because that’s how we are stronger,” the Ohio lawmaker said.
Sen. Jim Risch, Portman’s Republican colleague on the Foreign Relations Committee, had three words for Biden’s nine: “Stay on script.
“I wish he would stay on script. Whoever wrote that speech did a good job for him. But my gosh, I wish they would keep him on script,” Risch said of the gaffe-prone president.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has spoken repeatedly with Putin and Biden during the more than month-long war in Ukraine, urged the US president Sunday not to escalate the situation.
“I wouldn’t use these kinds of words,” Macron said when asked about Biden’s comments.
He added that he still hoped to resolve the situation diplomatically.
“If we want to do this, we mustn’t escalate neither with words nor with actions,” he said.
The United Kingdom echoed similar concerns.
“I think that is up to the Russian people,” British Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said in response to Biden’s alleged gaffe. “The Russian people will decide the faith of Putin and his cronies.”
Blinken was among the administration officials tamping down the ceommander-in-chief’s comments about Putin on Sunday.
“I think the president, the White House, made the point last night that, quite simply, President Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else,” Blinken said during a visit to Jerusalem, where he met with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
“As you know, and as you have heard us say repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia — or anywhere else, for that matter,” the US’s top diplomat said.
“As in any case, it’s up to the people of the country in question. It’s up to the Russians,” Blinken said.
US Ambassador to NATO Julianna Smith suggested that Biden was experiencing a “principle human reaction” after spending much of the day meeting with Ukrainian refugees in Poland and hearing how they had to flee their homes because of the Russian invasion.
“The president had spent the day visiting with Ukrainian refugees. He went to the National Stadium in Warsaw and literally met with hundreds of Ukrainians. He heard their heroic stories as they were fleeing Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine,” Smith said on CNN.
Biden earlier Saturday had referred to Putin as a “butcher” and in recent days called the Russian leader a “war criminal.”
“In the moment, I think that was a principled human reaction to the stories that he had heard that day,” Smith said of Biden’s “cannot remain in power” comment.
But she reiterated Blinken’s sentiment that the US is not following a strategy to oust Putin.
“As you have heard from Secretary Blinken and others, the US does not have a policy of regime change in Russia, full stop,” Smith told Bash.
Risch said the ad-libbed comment from the president during a war that could easily engulf Europe if escalated could have potential dire ramifications.
“You have seen the stories that have come up all over the world, because that was an announcement of a change in policy. Regime change is something that is existential. I mean, you just don’t do that. And the suggestion was made that we were changing policy and going to regime change,” he said on CNN.
Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) agreed with Portman that Biden gave the Russians an opportunity to use his words to their advantage.
“My problem with the president intimating or implying that it’s the United States or the West that wants to cause regime change is twofold: One, it feeds into Putin’s propaganda machine. He has long said the United States and NATO aim to take the Russian government out and to keep Russia weak,” he said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.”
“I guarantee you, he is pumping that propaganda into his people right now and saying, ‘See, I told you. This is why you have to rally around me,’ ” the congressman said.
“And then No. 2, for deterrence to work, the commander in chief has to be credible. This kind of flip-flopping, he says one thing, and then the White House has to clean it up, damages his credibility,” he said.
“The commander in chief has to be taken seriously. I don’t think he’s taken seriously right now,” Waltz said.
With Post Wires