President Trump said on Thursday that he wanted to thank Russian president Vladimir Putin for recently expelling 755 American diplomats and other personnel from Russia.
Speaking at a press conference from Bedminster, N.J., Trump said that Putin’s decision will help the U.S. government cut its payroll.
“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump told reporters.
It is not clear whether Trump was serious with his remarks. He showed no signs of joking before taking other questions from reporters.
Some in the media have criticized Trump for not responding to Putin’s order expelling the American diplomats. Putin made the move after the House and Senate approved a bill placing new sanctions on Moscow for meddling in the election last year.
The bill, which passed both congressional bodies with large veto-proof majorities, also placed restrictions on the executive branch unilaterally rolling back sanctions.
Trump signed the bill last week, but not before criticizing Congress for limiting his executive authority.
“There’s no real reason for them to go back, so I greatly appreciate that they’ve been able to cut the payroll for the United States,” said of the ousted diplomats. “We’re going to save a lot of money.”
Despite his comments, it is unlikely that the civil servants will be fired altogether. The State Department has not said whether they will be reassigned.