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Trump and Putin in Helsinki. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Republican Senate candidates are mostly sticking with President Trump after his disastrous press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, which provoked so much criticism that he tried to walk back some of his comments today.

Why it matters: It's another clear sign the Republican Party is now the party of Trump. Even when he does the unthinkable — something that embarrasses White House officials and GOP allies — hopeful GOP senators aren't willing to deviate from their leader.

I reached out to 11 GOP Senate candidates to get their response to Trump's remarks about Russian election interference, when he seemed to side with Putin over the U.S. intelligence community. Of those, only two responded, but some have commented in other settings.

What they're saying:

  • Wisconsin's Kevin Nicholson called Russian leaders "ruthless, uncooperative and untrustworthy," but said he supports Trump.
  • Arizona's Kelli Ward tweeted: "Ignore the #TrumpDerangementSyndrome crowd - he’s keeping his promise & more importantly he’s keeping us safe."
  • Pennsylvania Rep. Lou Barletta told a local news station that he agrees with U.S. intelligence agencies' conclusion that Russia interfered in the election, but that "it’s important to continue the dialogue between our two nations."

The other side: Not everyone is sticking with Trump. North Dakota GOP candidate Rep. Kevin Cramer told CNN: "President Trump is harder to defend than he is to explain sometimes. I wish he would have been more forceful."

  • Another Arizona candidate, Martha McSally, told the Green Valley News: "I do wish the President’s words on Putin ... were as strong as his actions.”
  • And one candidate dodged the question. Instead of responding to the president's remarks, West Virginia candidate Patrick Morissey's campaign asked if Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin had released a statement.

The reality is that they have no room to be disloyal. Trump has proven his power over the midterm elections, weighing in to boost his preferred candidates (like North Dakota's Kevin Cramer) and urging voters to oust fellow Republicans he doesn't like (Alabama's Martha Roby and West Virginia's Don Blankenship).

  • Today, Trump told reporters that he accepts the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia meddled in the election, adding that he meant to say, "I don't see any reason why it WOULDN'T be Russia."

Go deeper

18 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Kevin McCarthy's rude awakening

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Kevin McCarthy is learning you can get torched when you try to make everyone happy, especially after an insurrection.

Why it matters: The House Republican leader had been hoping to use this year to build toward taking the majority in 2022, but his efforts to bridge intra-party divisiveness over the Capitol siege have him taking heat from every direction, eroding his stature both with the public and within his party.

The next big political war: redistricting

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Democrats are preparing a mix of tech and legal strategies to combat expected gerrymandering by Republicans, who are planning to go on legal offense themselves.

Why it matters: Democrats failed to regain a single state legislature on Election Day, while Republicans upped their control to 30 states' Houses and Senates. In the majority of states, legislatures draw new congressional district lines, which can boost a party's candidates for the next decade.

48 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Vaccinations, relief timing dominate Sweet 16 call

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) speaks during a news conference in December with a group of bipartisan lawmakers. Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Vaccine distribution, pandemic data and a cross-party comity dominated today's virtual meeting between White House officials and a bipartisan group of 16 senators, Senator Angus King told Axios.

Why it matters: Given Democrats' razor-thin majority in both chambers of Congress, President Biden will have to rely heavily on this group of centrist lawmakers — dubbed the "Sweet 16" — to pass any substantial legislation.

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