As one of his last acts in office, President Obama will do something he’s rarely done: please Republicans.
The president’s decision to ask American intelligence agencies for a report on the hacking attacks connected to the presidential election—in particular, what impact Russian agents may have had on the election results—was cheered by hawkish Republicans and neoconservative foreign policy experts who have found hardly any common ground with the Obama White House over the past eight years.
“It appears... that after eight years the administration has suddenly awoken to the threat,” said Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. "Russia’s cyber-attacks are no surprise to the House Intelligence Committee, which has been closely monitoring Russia’s belligerence for years.
"All I can say is that this a very good but overdue move," added Eliot Cohen, who served as the State Department under Condoleeza Rice.
The report will be delivered to Congress before Obama’s term is complete, potentially putting President-elect Donald Trump at odds with members of his own party on the eve of his inauguration.
Trump has dismissed the role Russian agents have had in the presidential election—during one debate he guessed that the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s emails could have been "somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.” However, the intelligence community has assessed that Russia was responsible for the email breaches at the DNC and with Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s personal emails.
“Russia is clearly the issue on which Trump diverges the most from the rest of the GOP,” said Dan Drezner, a hawkish foreign policy intellectual who teaches at Tufts University.
In fact, while there are few issues on which both parties agree, there is wide bipartisan agreement on the issue of Russian belligerence. Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain have announced their intention to begin investigations into Russia, while House Democrats have crafted legislation that would create an independent commission to report on Russian interference in the American election, similar in concept to the 9/11 Commission.
"After many briefings by our intelligence community, it is clear to me that the Russians hacked our democratic institutions and sought to interfere in our elections and sow discord,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, saying he was “pleased” to hear of the White House’s announced investigation, urging that they declassify as much of it as possible.
Still, even while Republicans generally agreed with the president’s decision to request a report on Russian meddling in the U.S. elections, some on the right wondered what took so long for him to respond to Russian aggression—and only after an election loss.
“Years enabling Putin, Kerry shining [Russian Foreign Minister] Lavrov’s shoes, and NOW he’s upset?” American Enterprise Institute senior vice president Danielle Pletka told The Daily Beast. “This is blatantly political. It’s not that Russia didn’t seek to interfere, it’s that while they were doing so, not to speak of their activities in Europe and in Syria, Obama was indifferent.”
“The Obama administration, dedicated to delusions of ‘resetting’ relations with Russia, ignored pleas by numerous Intelligence Committee members to take more forceful action against the Kremlin’s aggression,” Nunes said.
In fact, in one of the ironies of the 2016 presidential election, the Obama administration originally sought to ‘reset’ relations with Russia, a strategy in which Hillary Clinton was a key player.
The American attempts to form closer ties with Russia were ultimately unsuccessful—Russia would go on to annex Crimea and support unrest in Ukraine—and the Eurasian nation ultimately played a key role against Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. But before Trump enters office, Obama is trying allow lawmakers—and perhaps the public—to understand just how hard the Russians tried to manipulate the American electorate.