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McFeely: In Russian trip, a nick in the Teflon for Hoeven

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.1 / 2
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The message posted to Sen. John Hoeven’s Twitter account July 4 featured a gloriously patriotic photograph of the U.S. Capitol at night, fireworks exploding above, along with the text “Happy Independence Day.”

The Republican senator from North Dakota also wrote a sentence about history, heritage and veterans.

A simple “Happy Birthday, America” message, right? Some forgettable verbiage, using modern technology, from a politician who rarely says much of anything worth remembering anyway.

Except that, this time, the nation took notice. Not for the message Hoeven sent, but because of the circumstances around it.

Like, for example, where Hoeven was when the tweet was posted on the most American day of all, when the United States celebrates our hard-fought independence.

That would be Moscow. As in Russia, not the township in North Dakota’s Cavalier County.

And the timing of it.

That would be one day after the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report confirming the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Vladimir Putin-led Russia meddled in the 2016 elections to help Donald Trump.

From Russia, with love.

The replies to Hoeven’s Twitter message were immediate and vicious. More than 1,600 people fired back at Hoeven and nearly every one was harshly critical. He was called a traitor. He was called treasonous. He was called other things.

“Did you have a nice 4th of July bbq in Russia? Get much future election meddling biz covered?” said one reply.

“Traitor to America on July 4, 2018. Well done,” said another.

“Senator, you’re in Russia telling Putin’s minions that there’s no need for us to be adversaries, making nice with a government that attacked our 2016 election and is currently attacking our 2018 midterms. This is war and you’re giving aid and comfort to the enemy!”

What in the name of Nikita Khrushchev is going on?

Hoeven was part of a eight-member Congressional delegation that traveled to Russia on a mysterious trip that had all the transparency of a brick wall. It was originally sold as “national security.” Then it was supposedly a run-up to the summit between Trump and Putin. Finally, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama told a Russian legislative leader, “I’m not here today to accuse Russia of this or that or so forth. I’m saying we should all strive for a better relationship.”

So it was a buddy-buddy tour. Or something.

The only photographs, video and direct quotes released from the Moscow meetings came from Russian state media, which is a good way to allow the Russians to spin the entire fiasco. Which they did, mocking the Americans as weak and submissive.

Originally, Hoeven’s office sidestepped any media inquiries about the trip from North Dakota media. It was only after the senator got roasted on social media and national pundits began to mock the trip as a major propaganda victory for the Russians -- Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank called the delegation the “Moscow Mules” and the “Prostrate Eight” -- that Hoeven’s office released a statement to the Grand Forks Herald.

“We made it clear at our meetings that we believe Russia interfered in our elections, which is unacceptable,” Hoeven is quoted as saying. “And also that we oppose Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and Syria.”

Mildly tough talk from the senator, after the fact via press release. No word if Hoeven and his friends threatened to hold their breath until Putin agreed to stop poisoning British citizens with deadly nerve agents and imprisoning political opponents.

Hoeven has led a Teflon-like existence as a North Dakota politician. He won his most recent election with nearly 80 percent of the vote, meaning he gets bipartisan support in the state that likes his inoffensive aw-shucks demeanor. This embarrassing display of being used by the Russians will not hurt him.

But in a long political career in which he has avoided being nicked, being called a “Red Square Republican” must sting a little. Whatever the purpose of this excursion to Moscow was, it failed. And Hoeven is being held accountable.

“Russian lap dog. Pathetic,” a blistering Twitter critic wrote.

“Nice of you to acknowledge the birth of a nation you are helping to sell out to Russia. Don’t come back,” said another.

Moscow, the township in North Dakota, would’ve been a better bet for the senator.

Readers can reach Forum columnist Mike McFeely at (701) 241-5379

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