GOP Senator says Biden's regime change gaffe 'plays into the hands' of 'Russian propagandists'

Rob Portman

The speech President Biden delivered in Warsaw on Saturday played "into the hands" of "Russian propagandists" by insinuating that the United States wishes to remove Russian President Vladimir Putin from power, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press.

"Well, first, I think all of us believe the world would be a better place without Vladimir Putin," Portman said in response to a question from host Chuck Todd. "But second, that's not the official U.S. policy. And by saying that regime change is our strategy, it plays into the hands of the Russian propagandists and plays into the hands of Vladimir Putin. So, it was a mistake. And the president recognized that and the White House has walked it back." The rest of Biden's speech, he added, was "very strong."

Portman didn't entirely let Biden off the hook, though. "We're in a war situation," he said. "And so, clarity is incredibly important."

Biden ended his Warsaw speech with the ad-libbed remark, "For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power," with "this man" referring to Putin. The statement was widely interpreted as a call for regime change in Russia, a rhetorical escalation that risks provoking a major nuclear power.

Soon after the speech, a White House official walked back Biden's comment. "The president's point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region," the official said.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who also appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday, said "the administration has made it clear that the goal of the United States is not regime change in Russia" but rather "defending the extraordinary people of Ukraine."

When asked if he believes the war will end with Putin still in power, Booker responded, "I just don't see how this ends well for him."

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