(CNSNews.com) - The White House defended its response to Russia after fielding questions Monday about whether President Donald Trump’s “strong words” about Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as Russian sanctions could be “eroding” diplomatic relations and whether it engaged in “hyperbole” by saying Trump has been tougher on Russia than any other president.
“With all that's happened with Russia, with the sanctions last week and now these strong words associating Russia with the Syrian attack, is there an expectation or feeling that relations -- diplomatic relations with Russia -- with this administration, with our country with Russia -- are eroding?” American Urban Radio Network’s (AURN) April Ryan asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
“We've been very tough on Russia for quite some time. I think the only people maybe that didn't understand that or see that were members of the press who continually questioned that. Now, I guess, people are concerned that we're being tough on Russia,” Sanders replied.
“I guess I'm confused on which way you want to have it. The president would like to have a good relationship, but that's going to be determined by the actions that Russia takes, and we're going to continue pushing forward,” she added.
On Sunday, Trump condemned the chemical attack in Syria, saying Putin, Russia, and Iran would pay a “big price” for backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price…” he tweeted.
CNN’s Jim Acosta asked Sanders if there is “some hyperbole” when she says that “nobody has been tougher” on Russian and Putin than this president.
ACOSTA: “Just because, you know, you've been saying this over the last couple of weeks, that nobody has been tougher on Russia and Vladimir Putin than this president. Isn't there some hyperbole in that, when you say that?
“I mean, obviously, Ronald Reagan's ‘Tear down this wall.’ John Kennedy put up a blockade around Cuba. Carter boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Obviously, there have been presidents over the course of the last several decades who have been tougher on this president.
“Also given the fact that this president, up until just recently wasn't really willing to criticize Vladimir Putin by name. We all saw that over the weekend, and took that as a new development.”
SANDERS: “Yeah, you cite, like, one example for each of those individuals. Let me list off just a few of the actions that the president has taken that previous administrations haven't: The Treasury Department issued new sanctions on numerous individuals and entities in Russia.
“The president has continued other sanctions on Russia's malicious cyber activity in response to election hacking. He has expelled 60 Russian operatives from the United States and closed two consulates. The president has issued four statements condemning Russia's poisoning of UK citizens on UK soil. He's authorized the sale of lethal aid to Ukraine.
“He's authorized military strikes against the Assad regime in Syria and has repeatedly called out Russia's actions on that front. We've also exported energy to our allies in Eastern Europe. Look, I think that you named off one or two things. It is without dispute that this administration and this president has done a number of things to be tough on Russia.”
ACOSTA: “So if the president says that Vladimir Putin may pay a price for what's happening in Syria right now -- after all, the Russians were supposed to be responsible for helping the Syrians remove the chemical weapons from Syria. When the president says that they may ‘pay a price,’ we should take that to the bank?”
SANDERS: “I’m not going to get ahead, once again, of any actions that the United States may or may not take, but I think the president has been clear about what his intention is.”