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Republican Rep. Warren Davidson Advises Trump To 'Continue To Play Offense'


President Trump appeared to correct himself yesterday. He said he misspoke Monday in Helsinki when he said he didn't see any reason why it would have been Russia interfering in a U.S. election. This, now, is the updated version of what the president believes.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I accept our intelligence community's collusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place, could be other people also. A lot of people out there.

GREENE: Now, the president faced a backlash from some Republicans. Senator John McCain called his performance in Helsinki disgraceful. Other Republicans were more restrained, including Congressman Warren Davidson of Ohio, who is in our studio this morning. Congressman, I think you said, simply, this was not the president's finest hour in Helsinki, is that right?

WARREN DAVIDSON: Yeah, perhaps a bit understated, but I think that's accurate.

GREENE: So he changed his statement now. Have have things changed for you? Is this different somehow?

DAVIDSON: Well, I think it's always awkward. We're spending so much time parsing words. And I think the disappointing part about that is it's actually, I think, intended to divide people. And the reality is we could be looking at the positive things out of this, the past actions that have put us in a position to be at the table with a chance for some more effective diplomacy, where we have good dialogue and the hope for the future. So it distracts from those things, and I think it's intended to divide.

GREENE: I mean, especially when you're talking about the president of the United States, aren't words important? I mean, this is no small reversal. It wasn't like him saying he likes broccoli and then maybe he doesn't the next day. This was a foreign government interfering in American democracy. It was whether the president trusts his own intelligence agencies. I mean, could this erode trust in the president of the United States when he does things like this?

DAVIDSON: Well, he's done a number of things that I think cause people to say, well, OK, what is the president talking about here? But the reality is when you look at his actions, his actions have been all pointing towards a common direction. And it is time for more deeds with Russia with respect to their interference in our elections. This isn't the first election that they've attempted to interfere with. They've done that for a long time, and not just in the United States, around the world. And my sincere hope is that they had a really candid discussion about that. No one that continues to interfere with the very premise of our country, the nature of our participatory system, is an ally of the United States of America.

GREENE: You said you hope that they had a candid discussion. The truth is we don't really know what happened in that one-on-one meeting. And I guess I wonder if you're worried if the president might have said something to Vladimir Putin one-on-one along the very same lines that we heard from him in public, something like - even something like he said yesterday, maybe it was someone else who interfered in our election, you know, we don't know if it was your government - and would that be dangerous?

DAVIDSON: Well, I think what would be dangerous is if we didn't talk about the more substantive things. I don't think we're going to change Russia's actions, you know, about their engagement with the West before we change their bigger picture things. How are they dealing with their nuclear weapons? How are we working with them in Syria? We've had some serious issues on how we parsed lines on the battlefield in Syria as we've worked together to defeat ISIS.

We've had some mutual interest in seeing ISIS defeated there, but we've also come up to one another in the battle space. And I feel that this administration's handled that much more effectively than the, you know, no-fly zones and direct confrontation with Russia that was proposed by the previous - frankly, by Hillary Clinton and others. So I think the president's given us a chance for a better relationship with Russia. The real question is, you know, Russia spent, frankly, the past generation after bankrupting their country with failed ideas and confrontation with the West, clawing their way back onto the world stage.

Yesterday, Vladimir Putin was on the world stage with President Trump. And the question is, are they going to go in a different path? Are they going to engage with the West and have good relationships, or are they going to continue to do the things that are going to create actually a very hostile relationship? And they do need to make a clean break from their past in Russia. But it's good that we're having the diplomacy.

GREENE: Good to have the diplomacy you say, but what would you tell the president in terms of avoiding what you call distractions such as this? You say a lot of the actions of the administration have been strong. But now, we have him again standing there and suggesting directly to the president of Russia, maybe you didn't interfere in a U.S. election. With midterms getting closer for your party, what can Republicans do to keep the president on message so you don't have to be coming into our studios and saying that this wasn't his finest hour standing with the leader of Russia?

DAVIDSON: Well, I think he needs to spend more time - what he's always done is go straight on to offense. I mean, even yesterday, this retraction, restated thing - just continue to play offense. The things that he's done are great. The economy's doing great. Everyone believed it would. The regulatory environment's doing great. Everyone believed it would. ISIS is nearly completely eradicated. Everyone was skeptical. And no one believed the economy would be growing at 3 percent. The new normal was 1.5 percent. The economy is doing great.

GREENE: You're saying you want a relationship his own way - in some sense?

DAVIDSON: Exactly. We have a great relationship with Israel. Our embassy's now in Jerusalem. North Korean hostages are returned. And we have a chance for diplomacy in North Korea. Everyone was alarmed by the rhetoric the president was engaging in, but his diplomacy has been effective. So whatever he has when he's alone and has candid conversations with world leaders, he's getting results.

GREENE: Republican Congressman Warren Davidson of Ohio. We appreciate you coming in, Congressman. Thanks a lot.

DAVIDSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.