California Republicans are cowards. Their reaction to the Trump-Putin summit proves it.

U.S. President Donald Trump comments on Putin meeting during a meeting with members of Congress in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, July 17, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
U.S. President Donald Trump comments on Putin meeting during a meeting with members of Congress in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, July 17, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS) TNS

California House Republicans are cowards.

That’s the inescapable conclusion from their pitiful reaction to President Donald Trump’s capitulation to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

Some prominent national Republicans joined the chorus of outrage against Trump for not standing up for American democracy and not backing U.S. intelligence agencies, which have unanimously concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump.

But nine California Republicans seeking re-election in contested House districts couldn’t bring themselves to criticize Trump by name.

“Putin cannot be trusted. Russia’s meddling in U.S. elections is undeniable and unacceptable,” tweeted Rep. Mimi Walters of Irvine, assiduously not mentioning the candidate for whose benefit Russia had meddled.

“Failure to acknowledge Russian interference in our election undermines the unanimous assessments of the U.S. intelligence community as well as the bipartisan findings of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees,” Rep. David G. Valadao of Hanford said in a statement, as if the president who committed that failure were somehow nameless.

When the San Francisco Chronicle contacted the offices of the nine Republicans, seven issued statements, and six of them found a way to respond without saying the T-word. Meanwhile, Rep. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove actually defended Trump, saying the president was right to give Putin’s denials equal weight with U.S. intelligence.

“I don’t think insulting Putin at a joint press conference would have contributed to better relations with Russia,” McClintock said in a statement.

If they won’t say a negative word about Trump after his pathetic performance Monday for fear that the president’s supporters will punish them at the polls, when will they ever?

That’s the definition of political cowardice. By failing to stand up against their president, they are failing to stand up for their country.

In full damage control mode, Trump finally acknowledged Tuesday that Russia did interfere in the 2016 election and declared that he has full faith in U.S. intelligence agencies. But he still wouldn’t specifically criticize Putin.

And even though he read from a statement, Trump undercut and contradicted what he called a clarification by wrongly claiming that he had said many times that he supports U.S. intelligence and repeating that the Russian interference didn’t have any impact on the election results. And in one particularly tortured and implausible explanation, Trump asserted that when he said Monday that he didn’t see any reason why it would be Russia interfering, he meant to say he didn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t.

After two years of denials and lies, it’s far too little, too late from the president. And it’s certainly not enough to take Congress off the hook.

It’s long past time that congressional Republicans from California and elsewhere must back up any critical words with action.

Republicans who control Congress could protect special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation that is trying to get to the bottom of what happened in 2016. They could demand that the White House seek the extradition of the 12 Russian intelligence agents who were indicted last week by Mueller. They could increase funding for grants to states to better protect their election systems. They could even tighten sanctions on Russia for its suspected poisonings in Britain.

But unless Republicans suddenly grow a political backbone, they will do nothing of the sort. These nine California districts could determine whether Democrats retake the House.

This is one of those pivotal moments in America’s history. Voters should closely watch what their elected representatives do – and act accordingly on Nov. 6.

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