‘Putin’s favorite congressman’ and rumored Trump cabinet pick dismisses Russian human rights abuses

“Are you comparing Gorbachev to Vladimir Putin?”

CREDIT: Screenshot/Yahoo News
CREDIT: Screenshot/Yahoo News

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a rumored contender for Secretary of State in a Trump administration, argued for closer relations with Russia on Wednesday, saying the country is “no longer the Soviet Union.” But almost immediately after, he compared Russian President Vladimir Putin to the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev — with no hint of irony.

“If it’s right for us to join in and cooperate and have a better relationship with Russia in order to defeat radical Islam and to pull China back a bit, well that’s a good thing, and that’s what this is all about,” Rohrabacher said in an interview with Yahoo News and Finance Anchor Bianna Golodryga. “Russia is no longer the Soviet Union. There’s a bunch of people here who want to treat it like it’s still the Soviet Union and get in the Cold War. That’s not what Donald Trump wants, it’s not good for America, and it’s better to cooperate with them to actually take on real enemies.”

When Golodryga brought up the Russian government’s history of human rights abuses, Rohrabacher scoffed, “Oh, baloney, where do you come from?”

“I come from the former Soviet Union,” Golodryga responded. “That’s where I came from. I came here as a political refugee.” Golodryga said she immigrated to the United States from the former Soviet republic of Moldova.

“Then the audience knows you’re biased,” Rohrabacher said, ignoring the point about human rights abuses in Russia.

Rohrabacher, who was a speechwriter for the Ronald Reagan administration, said Reagan “would love” what he was saying, since it was his White House that reached out and conducted diplomatic talks with Gorbachev. Asked whether he was comparing Gorbachev to Putin, Rohrabacher replied, “absolutely I am.”

The comparison between the last Soviet leader and Putin directly contradicts Rohrabacher’s attempt to move away from references to the Soviet Union to begin with. It’s also interesting because Gorbachev isn’t an exactly perfect leader, despite overseeing the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Since the end of the Cold War, there have been some new revelations suggesting Gorbachev was aware soldiers were massacring Georgians, Azerbaijanis, and Lithuanians protesting the central government during his tenure.

Despite Rohrabacher’s comparison, Gorbachev has also repeatedly criticized Putin’s authoritarian leadership, calling Putin an “obstacle to progress” in a TIME op-ed earlier this year. Putin has overseen a wide array of human rights abuses, including but not limited to a crackdown on the freedom of expression, increased LGBTQ discrimination, and a stifling (and assassination of) political opposition. Under Putin’s leadership, Russia also annexed Crimea, and it has gotten even more military involved in the Syrian civil war, often intentionally targeting civilians there.

Golodryga’s interview with Rohrabacher, which was a larger conversation about U.S.-China relations under a Trump administration, is worth watching in full for other gems. After being asked about by Golodryga about how he has been called Putin’s “favorite congressman,” for example, Rohrabacher said that while most of his colleagues may view it negatively, he doesn’t mind.

“If it’s right, it’s right,” he said. “I don’t mind advocating it.”

Rohrabacher also dismissed Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election through whataboutisim — pointing out that other countries, including the United States, have interfered in elections abroad.