Republicans avoid criticizing Trump’s attack on NATO

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Republican lawmakers had to grapple again with controversial comments made by Donald Trump after the former president said he would disregard the NATO treaty between the United States and its allies.

At a campaign rally on Saturday night in South Carolina, Trump said he once told the head of a NATO member that he would encourage Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to its allies. members he believes that he is not spending enough on their own defense.

His comments sparked anger among Democrats and concern among European leaders, including NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who said in a statement that “any suggestion that friends do not protect each other undermines our security to all, including US security, and sending America. and European troops at greater risk.”

Among Republican lawmakers, however, the comments were met with a mix of pushback, defensiveness and silence.

Trump-bashing NATO comments upset allies, reigniting European fears

While voting to pass a funding package for Ukraine and Israel on Sunday, some Republican senators told reporters they had not heard the president’s comments.

“I didn’t see that, so I would have to listen to his statement first,” said Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.). After a reporter asked him if he thought it was right for Trump to encourage Russia to attack a NATO country, Tuberville said he was “not getting into that conversation. “

Some, like Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), tried to distance themselves from Trump’s comments, but reminded reporters that this is not the first time Trump has complained. to raise about NATO members who were not carrying their weight.

“He used some fluff that I wouldn’t have used, but he’s not wrong about far too many members not paying the minimum 2 percent for NATO,” Tillis said, adding that It was a “foot fault” on behalf of Trump’s staff. for “even allowing” the idea that Russia attacked a NATO member “to get out there.”

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“Obviously that’s not something I believe he should have said, but I also don’t believe that’s something he honestly believes,” he said.

Others dismissed Trump’s comments as “politics” and suggested the president’s words were being used to create a negative narrative.

“It’s very clear to me that he’s going to push them to pay, but I don’t think he’s going to pull back,” said Senator Lindsey Graham (RS.C.). “He’s trying to make a point, I don’t care about it at all. “

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), speaking to CNN on Sunday, apologized for Trump’s comments by saying they should not be taken literally and arguing that the former president was just ” tell a story” about “how he used leverage to get people. step up to the plate and be more active in NATO.”

“Trump is not a member of the Council on Foreign Relations,” Rubio said on “State of the Union.” “He doesn’t speak like a traditional politician. “

Most dismissed the idea that Trump was actively trying to encourage Russian aggression.

“None of us want to see war in Europe and I don’t think there will be one at all,” said Senator Mike Rounds (RSD). “I’m pretty sure the president doesn’t want to see us in a war with Russia.”

Tillis also noted that “any attack on the NATO alliance would have devastating consequences for the American men and women deployed to protect them.”

Here’s a look at what NATO does

Trump’s comments on NATO were part of his usual campaign trail excoriating members of the alliance who failed to keep a 2006 pledge to increase military spending levels to 2 percent of their country’s GDP.

In 2018, Trump rocked a summit of NATO allies in Brussels with harsh comments suggesting that the United States might not comply with its commitment to protect other alliance members from attack unless they pay more money. Back then, Tillis reassured the nervous allies of the United States by telling them that Congress fully supports the alliance.

“There is no line of praise for ‘Let’s get out of NATO,'” he said then.

On Sunday, senators reaffirmed their commitment to NATO and put the $60 billion in aid to Ukraine on the Senate floor. Ukraine is not a member of the treaty, but many countries that are members of NATO have come together to help the European country to stop the Russian attack.

When asked what he made of Republicans rejecting Trump’s comments, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) offered a stern warning.

“He is going to withdraw from NATO. It’s going to arm the entire Department of Justice,” Murphy said. “All the things that he was stopped from doing in his first term, he is going to do in the second term. Every Republican knows that in their bones. “

Analysis: Republican NATO hawks wave the white flag at Trump’s provocations

In particular, top Republican leaders in the Capitol, including House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), remained mum on the subject. As of Monday night, Johnson had not officially commented on Trump’s comments. Spokespeople for the spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also did not respond to reporters’ questions Sunday about Trump’s comments. However, on the Senate floor ahead of the vote to advance the Ukraine and Israel funding package, McConnell delivered an impassioned speech about the importance of the United States’ commitments to its allies.

“I know it has become very fashionable in some circles to belittle our global interests as a global power, to bemoan the responsibilities of world leadership, to ‘ mourn the enthusiasm that has underpinned the longest drought of great power conflict in human history,” McConnell said. said. “This is lazy work for lazy minds. And there is no place in the United States Senate.”

Some Republicans were more direct in their criticism of Trump. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told reporters that she did not want Trump to suggest the United States throw NATO allies “to the Russian wolves.”

As he left the Senate floor on Sunday, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told reporters that what the former president said has “dangerous implications.”

“One of America’s advantages in geopolitics is that we have allies that the Russians and the Chinese don’t,” Romney said. “Well, we’re going to lose friends if we go around saying we’re not going to protect them under our obligations.”

Liz Goodwin contributed to this report.

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