Some Republican and Democratic lawmakers have rejected President Donald Trump’s most recent notion that the United States government is morally equivalent to Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
The most recent controversial claim took place during the president’s interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, which aired Sunday before the Super Bowl. During the discussion, Trump defended his decision to criticize longtime allies instead of the Russian authoritarian regime.
“I say it’s better to get along with Russia than not,” Trump said.
O’Reilly pushed back. “He’s a killer though. Putin’s a killer,” the host said, referring to Putin’s critics who have been found dead and Russian military tactics in Syria and Ukraine.
Related: Trump, Challenged About Putin, Says ‘Our Country’s So Innocent?’
“There are a lot of killers. We got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country’s so innocent?” the president responded.
Trump’s unexplained defense of Russia, which has he sustained since the campaign, continued to stump some lawmakers who appeared on network news shows Sunday.
“I’ll be honest, I don’t know what the president is trying to do with statements like these,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NY) said on ABC’s “This Week.”
The Nebraska senator then described the rights provided by the First Amendment, making it clear that Putin and Russia’s government do not provide those freedoms to its citizens.
“There is no moral equivalency between the United States of America — the greatest freedom loving nation in the history of the world — and the murderous thugs that are in Putin’s defense of his cronyism,” Sasse added.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) shared Sasse’s view of Russia, though he refused to criticize the president for his conflation of the United States and an authoritarian regime.
“Well, Putin is a former KGB,” McConnell said. “He’s an agent. He’s a thug. He was not elected in a way that most people would consider a credible election. The Russians annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine, and messed around in our elections. No, I don’t think there is any equivalency between the way the Russians conduct themselves and the way the United States does.”
The dismissal of a moral equivalency went beyond television appearances, as a number of noteworthy Republicans sounded off on Twitter.
But some lawmakers stuck up for Trump. Vice President Mike Pence defended the president on “Meet the Press.” Later, in an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” he dodged John Dickerson’s question whether the United States was morally superior to Russia.
Related: Mike Pence: Trump ‘Has Every Right to Criticize’ Other Branches of Government
“American ideals are superior to countries all across the world,” Pence told Dickerson. “But, again, what the president is determined to do, as someone who has spent a lifetime looking for deals, is to see if we can have a new relationship with Russia and other countries that advances the interests of America first and the peace and security of the world.”
On the Democratic side, messaging remained the same as leaders continued to call for an investigation on Russia’s involvement in the hacks of the Democratic Party during the presidential election, in which Putin was personally involved, NBC News confirmed.
U.S. intelligence agencies believe that the Russian government was working to aid Trump during the election.
“I want to know what the Russians have on Donald Trump. I think we have to have an investigation by the F.B.I. into his financial, personal and political connections to Russia,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”