"I want to thank him because we're trying to cut down our payroll," Trump said
Trump begrudgingly signed a sanctions bill earlier this month
President Donald Trump, in his first response to Russia’s decision to expel hundreds of American diplomats from the country, said he wanted to thank Russian President Vladimir Putin because the United States is “trying to cut down our payroll.”
Trump, speaking with reporters during a meeting at his golf club in New Jersey, said he was “thankful” Putin decided to expel the diplomats, a decision that came in response to stepped up United States sanctions against Russia.
“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll and as far as I’m concerned,” Trump said.
“There’s no real reason for them to go back,” Trump said. “I greatly appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to cut our payroll of the United States. We’re going to save a lot of money.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday that Trump was being “sarcastic” when he made the comment.
Trump campaigned on slashing government spending and the budget the Trump administration submitted this year would cut the State Department’s budget by roughly 32%.
Trump begrudgingly signed a sanctions bill earlier this month that levied new sanctions against Russia, North Korea and Iran. The bill also restricted the President’s ability to ease the sanctions.
The Senate and the House overwhelmingly passed the sanctions earlier this year, with majorities that could have withstood a presidential veto. The White House, in a statement about the sanctions, said the bill included “a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions” that infringe on the President’s authority.
In response, the Russian Foreign Ministry ordered the United States to 755 staffers, the same number Russia has in the United States, by September 1. The Foreign Ministry also said they would suspend the use of a US storage facility in Moscow and a country house outside Moscow.
This was the latest in an ongoing tit-for-tat between the United States and Russia. President Barack Obama’s administration expelled 35 diplomats from the United States in December under sanctions imposed over Russia’s messing in the 2016 election.
CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark contributed to this report