Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) has long been a lone pro-Russian voice on Capitol Hill, defending Putin and urging dialogue with the Kremlin. (Paul Holston/AP)

 

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican ally of President-elect Donald Trump and a longtime enthusiast of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Wednesday that he is planning to lead a congressional delegation to Russia next month and expects to meet with Russian officials to discuss “how we can work with the Duma.”

“We’re going to look at certain goals we can set with our Congress and the Duma,” the Russian legislature, Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said in an interview. “What could we actually set in the legislature of Russia and in Congress? Could we work together, for example, and cooperate on space activities?”

Rohrabacher went on to list the rise of the Islamic State and President Obama’s latest round of sanctions against Russia as additional agenda items that he expects to come up during the talks in Moscow.

Rohrabacher, a former White House speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan who represents Orange County, said Russian leaders are eager to meet with U.S. lawmakers to talk directly about the sanctions and many other lingering political tensions.

“We’ll go within a month of the inaugural,” the Republican said of the timing. “It’s going to be an official trip of my subcommittee.”

Speaking while on a tour of Baltic states Jan. 1, Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said they would like stronger sanctions against Russia after cyber attacks during the presidential election. (Reuters)

Rohrabacher, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and emerging threats, was coy when asked whether his group would meet with Putin.

“I really can’t say that,” he said after a pause and a half-smile. “It’s possible.”

Rohrabacher, an advocate for warmer relations with Russia who once said he has known Putin since the Russian president was “deputy mayor of St. Petersburg,” said he is happy to facilitate the conversations.

“We’ll see who can come,” he said. “I’ll bring some people with me who seem antagonistic toward having better relations. We’ll put them together, sit down with some people in Russia who can talk to them, person to person, and start to have a real dialogue instead of screaming epithets at each other.”

Rohrabacher said he was not working with Trump’s transition team on the trip but acknowledged that he is close to many Trump advisers — and said that he was under consideration for several positions in the administration, including at the State Department. He said he does not expect Trump to oppose “the CODEL [congressional trip] I’m putting together.”

Rohrabacher’s trip, however, could hit a snag if Rep. Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.), the Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, does not approve the subcommittee’s travel arrangements.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who holds a far more hawkish view on Russia than Rohrabacher, declined to comment.

In a recent statement, Ryan said that “Russia does not share America’s interests. In fact, it has consistently sought to undermine them, sowing dangerous instability around the world.”

Speaking Dec. 31, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Russia must be made to pay for cyber attacks against the U.S. (Reuters)

While Rohrabacher and Trump may be aligned in their view of Russia, they are not in the mainstream of the congressional GOP, which in the Senate and House mostly shares the views expressed by leaders such as Ryan and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who were deeply shaped by the GOP’s Cold War thinking on U.S.-Russian relations.

As The Washington Post’s Elise Viebeck reported last month, “Rohrabacher has been criticized for freelancing his own foreign policy”:

Around the time of his election, he briefly joined a mujahideen unit fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. After he won his race, he illegally entered Burma to meet with pro-democracy students. Against advice from the State Department, he became the first congressman to visit Croatia, in August 1991, after fighting broke out between Croatian secessionists and Serbian militants that summer. Ten years later, the State Department reportedly rebuked him for meeting with Taliban officials at a Sheraton Hotel in Qatar.

Rohrabacher said Wednesday that his organizing of the trip was not freelancing but part of his job as a subcommittee chairman.