In the Russian tit-for-tat that occurred right after Congress passed a sweeping sanctions bill, some 700 diplomats and State Department employees were ordered to leave the country. This was not just in response to the bill but also the Obama Administration's move to close two Russian compounds in the United States in response to election interference. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson promised retaliatory steps by Sep. 1, but it seems the president didn't want to wait that long. On Thursday, Trump said he's glad Russia expelled the diplomats because the country will save on payroll. The reaction has been resoundingly negative.
Trump's comments came at a press conference outside his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. It was reported in different media both that the president spoke in a light tone and may have been joking and that he "did not appear to be joking or responding sarcastically." Regardless, foreign affairs experts, diplomats, and journalists are taking him at his word. Here's what he told the crowd of reporters about Putin's move:
The comment sparked near immediate controversy, which can be seen in statements, comments given to newspapers, and the president's own favored form of communication: tweets. Here are a few of the responses that cover just how unhappy experts are.
1) Michael McFaul, Ambassador To Russia Under President Barack Obama
That @realDonaldTrump praised Putin today for cutting 755 people from our embassy in Russia shows that he doesn't understand diplomacy.— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) August 10, 2017
2) Rep. Kathleen Rice
This is insulting to US diplomats. Also really, really stupid. Diplomats don't get fired for getting kicked out of a hostile foreign country https://t.co/xhshz6hk8z— Kathleen Rice (@RepKathleenRice) August 10, 2017
The Democratic representative serves New York district four on Long Island.
3) Rep. Eliot Engel
Also a Democrat from New York representing parts of the Bronx and Westchester County, Rep. Eliot Engel, is the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He released a statement, saying that the president's comment "plumbs new depths of disrespect toward the men and women who sacrifice and serve our country." He added that "the president owes our diplomats an apology."
"President Trump once again let Russia off the hook and instead insulted America's diplomats," Engel said. "No doubt, the President's staff will eventually try to clean up after the parade by claiming it was a joke, but there's nothing funny about this."
4) Nicolas Burns, Former Diplomat
A shameful statement by Pres. Trump. He justifies mistreatment of US diplomats by Putin. If he was joking, it shows his true character https://t.co/BH9ru1m46R— Nicholas Burns (@RNicholasBurns) August 10, 2017
In addition to having worked as a diplomat, Nicholas Burns' current gig makes him an expert on this, too. He's a Harvard Kennedy School professor.
5) Anonymous Current Diplomats And State Department Employees
Politico's Louis Nelson reported on the story and spoke with a number of diplomas and State Department employees. One told the news source, "This is so incredibly demoralizing and disrespectful to people serving their country in harm's way."
Another spoke of how many at State feel exactly the same way:
Some were even at a loss for (appropriate) words. "THANK Putin?" one diplomat responded to Politico. "I don't have words that are printable to describe my reaction."
6) Nahal Toosi, 'Politico' Reporter
State Department employees are. So. Mad. About. This. Right. Now. https://t.co/6gideGShBC— Nahal Toosi (@nahaltoosi) August 10, 2017
Toosi, a foreign affairs correspondent also heard from employees. They were not pleased.
7) Mythili Sampathkumar, 'The Independent' Reporter
This was def the most...something..piece I've written of late. Trump thanks Putin for expelling US diplos frm Russia https://t.co/FioqZZUsDv— Mythili Sampathkumar (@MythiliSk) August 10, 2017
This NYC-based reporter for this U.K. paper acknowledges the article to be the "most...something" she's written in a while. She's not the only one finding herself speechless.
8) Barbara Stephenson, Head Of Diplomats' Union
Barbara Stephenson is the president of the American Foreign Service Association, the union representing diplomats. She had a clear statement on the matter:
9) Garry Kasparov, Chair Of Human Rights Foundation
Incredible. If Russia sank an American Navy ship, Trump would thank Putin for saving the US money on payroll and ship maintenance. https://t.co/DhvSH1opJk— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) August 10, 2017
Human Rights Foundation is a non-partisan group that works to spread human rights globally. Garry Kasparov is its chairman and the Russian-Croatian chess grandmaster.
10) Robert Maguire, Freelance Journalist
The only way Putin's expulsion of diplomats from Russia "reduces payroll" is if Trump fires everyone Putin expelled pic.twitter.com/TfPjbp5uSV— Robert Maguire (@RobertMaguire_) August 10, 2017
Again, the "jobs" president probably doesn't want to fire Americans.
11) Billy Flynn, 'Days Of Our Lives'
OK, maybe neither Billy Flynn nor Chad DiMera, the character he plays on Days of Our Lives, is an expert on the matter, but Flynn does make a point about the jobs president praising people getting fired.
12) Nick Schifrin, PBS Newshour Special Correspondent
This is... extraordinary. Trump thanks Putin for expelling 755 US staff currently serving in Russia. Full quotation: pic.twitter.com/c3HkbdUHk5— Nick Schifrin (@nickschifrin) August 10, 2017
Even the people from PBS are using words like "extraordinary."
13) Spencer Ackerman, Daily Beast Reporter
It's nowhere near the most important part of this, but the US *still has to pay the expelled diplomats & spies*.— Spencer Ackerman (@attackerman) August 10, 2017
Ackerman covers national security for the Daily Beast. He points out perhaps the least logical part of Trump's statement: The United States still has to keep paying the diplomats that were expelled from Russia. They'll be reassigned to another country or work from the State Department headquarters.
In summary, Trump's statement was far from appreciated by those who know best.