The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In break with Trump, Rep. McCarthy says he doesn’t think there’s ‘anything savvy or genius’ about Putin

Breaking from former president Donald Trump, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 9. (Video: The Washington Post)

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) declined to echo Donald Trump’s praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a rare break by the top House Republican with the former president.

“I do not think anything’s savvy or genius about Putin,” McCarthy told reporters at his weekly news conference when asked about Trump’s comments. “I think Putin is evil. He’s a dictator. And I think he’s murdering people right now.”

During an interview with a right-wing radio program last month, Trump praised Putin’s handling of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, ‘This is genius.’ Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine — Putin declares it as independent,” Trump said.

He later added: “Here’s a guy that says, you know, ‘I’m gonna declare a big portion of Ukraine independent’ — he used the word ‘independent’ — ‘and we’re gonna go out and we’re gonna go in and we’re gonna help keep peace.’ You gotta say that’s pretty savvy.”

Trump made the comments more than two weeks ago, but McCarthy did not publicly weigh in on them until Wednesday.

At his weekly news conference, McCarthy also gave a one-word answer when asked whether he agreed with former vice president Mike Pence’s statement last week that there is no room in the Republican Party for “apologists for Putin.”

“Yeah,” McCarthy said.

In June 2016, before Trump won the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, McCarthy had told other GOP leaders during a private conversation, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.”

Dana Rohrabacher is a California Republican who retired from the House in 2019. He was known for his repeated statements in praise of Putin and the Russian government.

Philip Bump contributed to this report.