March 21, 2018
Today, U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke on the Senate floor about Vladimir Putin’s sham reelection and the White House's anonymous leaks.
Text of Senator Sasse's speech is found below:
Mr. President, yesterday, at the White House, two terrible things happened, and it shouldn't be difficult to condemn both of these things at once. First, at the podium in the White House press room, it was suggested that the U.S. Government is unsure if Putin's reelection was perhaps legitimate, free, and fair. Or, perhaps the U.S. is morally indifferent to the question of whether Putin's reelection was fair, free, and legitimate. It was not fair or free or legitimate, and it matters.
The second horrible thing that happened yesterday is that the President's confidential briefing materials for his call with Vladimir Putin were anonymously leaked to the public. That should not happen. The president's call, congratulatory call, was terribly ill-advised, but that doesn't change the fact that the leaking of the confidential briefing materials for his call were also wrong.
It shouldn't be difficult to say both of these things. They're both true, so we should be able to say both of them at once. Our people are very divided right now, Mr. President. They're unclear about who we are and how we conceive of ourselves on the global stage. Our tribalism has run amok. If you listen to some of our cable news today -- I haven't, but I suspect that what you would find is that on certain networks, there is only discussion of the leaking and no discussion of what a terrible abandonment of American foreign policy yesterday's failure to condemn Putin's phony, sham reelection was, and on the other networks, I imagine you're going to get exactly the opposite story, where the only thing that matters is how stupid this call was to Vladimir Putin and nothing about the leaks. That isn't helpful for building a nation of 320 million people who know what we stand for together.
Here's what's true. A President's staff shouldn't leak. In cases of principle, you may need to resign, so resign. Do the right and honorable thing if you believe your conscience is compelled to do so, and resign your position and go out and publicly make a case for why a certain policy is failing. But that's a different thing than anonymously leaking the information that a president has -- not just this President but any President has to make his or her decisions, to deliberate with their staff, to plot their actions.
Leaks like this weaken us, both at home in terms of public trust in our institutions and our public servants, and they weaken us abroad in terms of whether or not we have any coherence to who we are as a people and how we make our decisions. But now, as to this decision to fail to condemn Putin's sham reelection, it's very foolhardy.
Vladimir Putin is not a friend. Vladimir Putin is a despot. The President of the United States was wrong to congratulate him, and the White House Press Secretary was wrong to duck a simple question about whether or not Putin's reelection was free and fair. It was not. The American people know that, the Russian people know that, and the world knows that.
And yesterday, when the White House refused to speak directly and clearly about this matter, we were weakened as a nation and a tyrant was strengthened. Around the world, there are two great symbols of America from this city. The first is the dome of the capitol in which we stand. This building testifies to the strength of our self-government and to our belief in inherent human dignity. But the other symbol that comes from this city that's known around the world is the podium in the White House press room. Tucked into a small room and surrounded by members of a free press, it is simply the free world's biggest megaphone. It symbolizes Americans' commitment to the universal dignity, not just of 320 million people, the citizens of this country, but to 7.6 billion men, women, and children across the globe.
Speaking clearly about tyrants is one of the things that we do. It is not seeking monsters to destroy. For more than 200 years, the American people have clearly understood this. For more than 200 years, administrations of both parties have clearly understood this. At times in the past, previous administrations have made mistakes. They have split hairs, they have smoothed edges, they have dodged, they have hedged. But what happened yesterday at the podium in the White House? The dodge on Putin broke with the basic American moral tradition. It broke faith with our core values. It broke trust with freedom seekers across the globe.
This very day, there are dissidents all over the globe struggling against totalitarian regimes in darkness, and to them, America has always said and America still says we see you, we stand with you. We may make long and deliberate decisions about how we engage in the world and about what particular commitments are prudent to exercise at different times with different allies, but we have always spoke unequivocally about the universal dignity of 7.6 billion people. To those who struggle, we have always said we see you, and we stand with you.
These simple truths matter. The moral responsibilities of the office of the Presidency matter, and when we don't affirm these basic truths, it is a failure to who we are. It is a failure to do what we do, and it is a betrayal, not just to the millions of people who are denied free and fair elections in Russia this week, but it is a failure to people all across the globe who are struggling in darkness against tyrants.
Each and every member of this Senate, all 100 of us, was elected in the kind of free and fair election that Vladimir Putin fears, the kind of election that he would not win. Vladimir Putin is a coward. Vladimir Putin is a despot. Just this month, Vladimir Putin tried to assassinate a political dissident and his daughter on NATO soil in the U.K. And given that we have taken an oath in this body after our free and fair elections to uphold and defend the constitution, given that, we ought not in this body find it difficult to say basic true things like, we condemn leaks by the President's staff against him. We also condemn Vladimir Putin's sham election. We condemn a Russian despot that aims to make Soviet tyranny great again.