“What does July 4th mean to me? Freedom,” Sen. Ron Johnson chirruped on Twitter on Independence Day.
For the Wisconsin Republican, it meant, specifically, the freedom to spend July 4 in Moscow with seven other Republican lawmakers posing for propaganda photos with Russian officials. On the same day it was reported in Britain that two more people had been poisoned by a Russian nerve agent British officials say came from Vladimir Putin’s regime. On the day after the Senate Intelligence Committee affirmed the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the election to help Donald Trump.
Johnson and his colleagues apparently exercised their freedom not to meet with opposition or civil society figures (those whom the Putin regime has not imprisoned or killed), avoiding the risk of offending their hosts. They also exercised their freedom to soft-pedal their criticism of the Russian government, leading Russian politicians and state media to mock them as supplicants.
Yet despite this lavish display of the freedom to kowtow, they didn’t get the meeting they hoped for with Putin himself. He was busy, the Kremlin said.
There was a time, in the pre-Trump era, when Republicans would have erupted in fireworks over an Independence Day visit by submissive American lawmakers to the country the 2012 Republican presidential nominee called “our number one geopolitical foe.” (Relations have worsened considerably since then.) They called Jane Fonda “Hanoi Jane” and a traitor when she went to North Vietnam in 1972. After Democrats visited Iraq in 2002, Republicans ridiculed them as “Baghdad boys.”
So, what do we call these Red Square Republicans? My interlocutors on Twitter suggest “Moscow Mules.” Or, given the position they put themselves in before our masters in Moscow, perhaps they should be called the Prostrate Eight: Sens. Richard C. Shelby (Ala.), Steve Daines (Mont.), John Hoeven (N.D.), John Neely Kennedy (La.), Jerry Moran (Kan.), John Thune (S.D.) and Johnson, plus Rep. Kay Granger (Tex.).
Their excellent adventure included a ballet performance of “Sleeping Beauty,” and fairy-tale notions pervaded their official meetings, too. “I’m not here today to accuse Russia of this or that or so forth,” Shelby told Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin. “I’m saying that we should all strive for a better relationship.”
Yes, let us strive for camaraderie with a government that attacks us with cyberwarfare, meddles in our elections, denies entry to American officials who are critical of Moscow, destabilizes Europe and the Middle East, kills critics at home and abroad, occupies its neighbors’ land and shoots down the occasional passenger jet. Or, as Shelby put it, “this, that or so forth.”
One can hardly wait to see the lawmakers’ next codel: meeting with wounded Taliban fighters on Veterans Day? A Memorial Day wreath-laying for fallen members of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard? Flag Day at a street protest in Tehran?
Soon they’ll be meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and praising him as talented, honest and trustworthy. Oh, wait.
“I asked our friends in Russia not to interfere in our elections this year,” one of the Moscow Mules, Kennedy, said after their meetings. “I asked them to exit Ukraine and allow Ukraine to self-determine. I asked for the same thing in Crimea. I asked for their help in bringing peace to Syria. And I asked them not to allow Iran to gain a foothold in Syria.”
Apparently he didn’t say “pretty please with a cherry on top,” because the Russians were dismissive of the Americans’ pleading.
Duma member Vyacheslav Nikonov said that of the many meetings he has had with American lawmakers, this “was one of the easiest ones in my life,” The Post’s Anton Troianovski reports.
The Post’s Karoun Demirjian reports that state television in Russia mocked the meek Americans. One Russian military expert said, “We need to look down at them and say: You came because you needed to, not because we did.”
Sergey Kislyak, Russian legislator and former ambassador to Washington, dismissed the Prostrate Eight’s message as “things we’d heard before,” and said “our guests heard rather clearly and distinctly” Russia’s denial that it interfered in U.S. elections.
They hardly needed to go to Moscow for that, though, because Trump himself tweeted last week: “Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!”
This came after Trump pushed for Russia to be readmitted to the Group of Seven, and in advance of the July 16 Putin-Trump meeting in Helsinki that an Esquire writer called Trump’s “annual performance review.”
“Happy 4th of July!” Shelby, leader of the Moscow Mules, tweeted from Russia. “We are the land of the free because of the brave.”
And what is more courageous than visiting your foe on the Fourth of July and shrinking from accusations of this or that or so forth?