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Democrats clarify Biden's Putin remark as Republicans knock his 'mistake'

President Joe Biden said his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, “cannot remain in power” in a fiery speech from Poland.
President Joe Biden speaks in Warsaw, Poland, on March 26, 2022.
President Joe Biden speaks Saturday in Warsaw, Poland.Petr David Josek / AP

WASHINGTON — A day after President Joe Biden's nine-word comment about his Russian counterpart, which some said sounded like a call for regime change, Democrats took to Sunday programs to clarify the fiery line while Republicans walked a tightrope of panning both it and Vladimir Putin.

“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden said Saturday at the end of a speech from Warsaw, Poland’s capital — a line that a source familiar with the situation said hadn’t been included in prepared remarks.

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday": “The president was speaking from his heart, but it is not U.S. policy to see regime change.”

There is "no support in the Democratic Congress for regime change,” he said, suggesting that Biden could have been “frustrated” after having met with Ukrainian refugees in his trip to Europe. "We've been the party against regime change in the past 20 years.”

Echoing the sentiment, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., also made it clear that the U.S. position isn’t for regime change.

“Vladimir Putin is a monster,” she said on ABC's "This Week." “But the position of the United States government is not to send troops there. It is to give all the aid we can to Ukraine."

Biden returned to Washington early Sunday after three days of high-profile meetings in Europe, where he sought to rally U.S. allies for a prolonged pressure campaign against Russia's invasion of Ukraine. He held talks with world leaders in Brussels and then headed to Poland, where he spoke with the country's president, visited U.S. troops near the Ukrainian border and toured a refugee center in Warsaw before he gave a speech to build support for Kyiv's resistance.

His comment about Putin, which Biden administration officials quickly walked back, prompted a swift response from the Kremlin, overshadowing his efforts to frame Russia’s war in Ukraine as the battle of a generation in the fight for democracy. A White House official said in a statement sent widely to reporters: “The President’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.”

Republicans panned the remark, including Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who called the moment a "mistake." 

“Well, first, I think all of us believe the world would be a better place without Vladimir Putin,” he said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “But second, that’s not the official U.S. policy, and by saying that, that regime change is our strategy, effectively, it plays into the hands of the Russian propagandists and plays into the hands of Vladimir Putin."

The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said the line was a "horrendous gaffe," urging Biden to "stay on script."

"As you pointed out already, there was a horrendous gaffe right at the end of it,” Sen. James Risch of Idaho told host Dana Bash on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I wish he would stay on script. Whoever wrote that speech did a good job for him. But my gosh, I wish they would keep him on script. Please Mr. President, stay on script.”

Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., said the White House’s walking back Biden's remark "damages his credibility."

"This murderous attack will continue as long as Putin's in charge," Waltz said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.” "But the change needs to come from internal to Russia. It needs to come from the Russian people."