Obama Homeland Security chief defends Biden declaring Putin ‘cannot remain in power’

Barack Obama‘s Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson stood as an outlier on Sunday defending President Joe Biden‘s off-the-cuff remark that Vladimir Putin ‘cannot remain in power.’

‘I’m not sure I would have walked it back,’ the first black DHS chief told NBC’s Meet the Press, claiming ‘everyone in the western world’ backed the sentiment. 

Johnson added of Putin, ‘He’s a war criminal. He’s slaughtering innocent men, women and children. He illegally invaded Ukraine. And he’s got command and control of nuclear weapons. Such a person should not remain in power.’

It comes as federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle scramble to downplay the president’s remarks, some reiterating existing US policy while Republican Senator Jim Risch chided Biden to ‘stay on script.’

Risch called the comment a ‘horrendous gaffe.’ 

Meanwhile Ukraine’s ambassador to the US said her people heard the president’s message ‘loud and clear.’ 

Biden appeared to call for the Russian autocrat’s removal on Saturday during an emotionally-charged speech in Warsaw after meeting with Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Kremlin’s brutal and unprovoked invasion.

‘For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,’ he said. ‘This battle will not be won in days or months either. We need to steel ourselves for the long fight ahead.’ 

Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was among the few foreign policy officials standing by Biden’s comments in Warsaw on Saturday night, even as the White House sought to water them down

The White House soon raced to clarify that Biden was referring to Putin’s influence outside Russia’s borders and was not calling for regime change.  

But the non-scripted remark prompted a flurry of responses from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. 

GOP Senator Jim Risch of Idaho said the president’s speechwriter did a ‘good job’ but knocked Biden for improvising during a Sunday television interview.

‘This administration has done everything they can to stop escalating. There’s not a whole lot more you can do to escalate than to call for regime change,’ Risch said on CNN’s State of the Union.

‘The White House tried to walk it back immediately. Tony Blinken, the secretary of state, tried to walk it back immediately. I will walk it back right now. That is not the policy of the United States of America. Please, Mr. President, stay on script.’

He said regime change was an ‘existential’ issue, adding of the speech: ‘Whoever wrote it did a good job, hit the right notes. And then to have that at the end, the sour note at the end, was unfortunate, to say the least.’ 

Democrat Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said it ‘has been made very clear’ that the president was not calling to topple Putin from power during an appearance on ABC’s This Week.

‘We know the policy of our country. We know what it is. I think Vladimir Putin knows what it is and certainly our NATO allies and Americans know what it is,’ Klobuchar said on Sunday.

Meanwhile Republican Senator Jim Risch said Biden's remark was a 'horrendous gaffe' and urged him to 'stay on script'

Meanwhile Republican Senator Jim Risch said Biden’s remark was a ‘horrendous gaffe’ and urged him to ‘stay on script’

'For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power,' Biden said during his speech in Warsaw

‘For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,’ Biden said during his speech in Warsaw

She added, ‘Vladimir Putin is a monster. But the position of the United States Government is not to send troops in there. It is to give all the aid we can to Ukraine.’ 

 Democrat Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey echoed his colleague’s comments in walking back Biden’s speech.

‘I think the administration has made it clear that the goal of the United States is not regime change in Russia. It’s defending the extraordinary people of Ukraine and helping them in what I think is an existentially critical battle, not just for their country, but for free democracies around the world,’ Booker told Meet the Press on NBC.

However, asked about if he personally saw Putin still in power after his brutal invasion of Ukraine, Booker admitted he cannot ‘see how this ends well’ for the autocrat.

‘I don’t see a real victory for him. His country is suffering extraordinarily. He is depleting critical resources from his own nation for this awful war. So I just don’t see how this ends well for him,’ the New Jersey Democrat said.

Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, a Republican, claimed Biden’s remark was a ‘mistake’ that ‘plays into the hands of the Russian propagandists and plays into the hands of Vladimir Putin.’

‘I think all of us believe the world would be a better place without Vladimir Putin. But … that’s not the official U.S. policy,’ Portman also told Meet the Press.

A Ukrainian serviceman stands in a heavily damaged building in Stoyanka, Ukraine, Sunday, March 27

A Ukrainian serviceman stands in a heavily damaged building in Stoyanka, Ukraine, Sunday, March 27

People prepare sand bags to cover statues in an effort to protect cultural and historical heritage amid Russian attacks in Kyiv on March 27

People prepare sand bags to cover statues in an effort to protect cultural and historical heritage amid Russian attacks in Kyiv on March 27

Meanwhile former Homeland Security chief Johnson, who worked with Biden under the Obama administration, claimed much of the western world agreed that Putin ‘cannot remain in power.’

‘At most, I would’ve modified the statement by saying “It’s not a statement of our policy, it’s just simply a statement of fact.” But, you know — I’d like to see us at some point, get to a place where we’re not constantly disclaiming the line over which we will not cross,’ Johnson said on Sunday. 

The former official pointed to other notable instances of presidential improvisation, such as when Ronald Reagan famously referred to the former Soviet Union as the ‘evil empire’ in a speech.

Of Biden’s comment, he added: ‘It was a statement of fact. Virtually everyone agrees. Everyone in the western world agrees.’

Ukrainian Ambassador to the US Oksana Markarova told Meet the Press on Sunday: ‘We heard President Biden loud and clear.’

‘We clearly understand in Ukraine that anyone who’s a war criminal, who attacks a neighboring country, who’s doing all these atrocities together with all the Russians that are involved, definitely cannot stay in power in a civilized world,’ Markarova said. 

After Biden’s speech in Warsaw on Saturday, a White House official clarified that Biden was not calling for regime change in Moscow as the Kremlin reacted to the US president with outrage.

‘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,’ the official said.

Meanwhile Russia’s response was menacingly vague.

‘This is not to be decided by Mr. Biden,’ Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in response. ‘It should only be a choice of the people of the Russian Federation.’  

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that the  US is not looking for ‘regime change’ in Moscow or anywhere else in the world. 

Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem, Blinken explained that his boss was likely referring to Putin’s influence outside of his country.

‘I think the president, the White House, made the point last night that, quite simply, President Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else,’ Blinken said according to multiple reports. 

‘As you know, and as you have heard us say repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia — or anywhere else, for that matter.’

The US’s chief diplomat was speaking at a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.  

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