Republican Lawmakers say Trump’s words matter — and hurt the country’s standing abroad
A growing roster of Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill say they believe President Trump’s pugnacious rhetoric and unpredictable behavior threaten to diminish the United States’ standing around the world, do real damage to fragile diplomatic relationships and even weaken global stability.
Lawmakers are speaking in increasingly urgent tones about Trump’s unusual foreign policy statements and his tendency to pick fights with domestic and international figures. They say it has taken a toll on the way key allies, foes and other foreign observers view the United States. Even members of Trump’s own party are having difficulties vouching for him.
“A country’s more than one person,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), when asked whether he is concerned that the president’s words have harmed the U.S. image. The senator, who dined Wednesday with Trump but has also criticized the president’s posture toward Russia, added: “There’s more than one voice in America.”
In a striking speech to international defense officials gathered Friday in Germany, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) suggested that the survival of the Western world is at risk from some of the ideas Trump has embraced.
“The next panel asks us to consider whether the West will survive. In recent years, this question would invite accusations of hyperbole and alarmism. Not this year,” McCain said, according to prepared remarks delivered Friday at the Munich Security Conference. “If ever there were a time to treat this question with a deadly seriousness, it is now.”
McCain did not mention Trump, who did not attend the conference, by name. But it was clear that he was lamenting the policies and practices of the Trump administration — and their threat to global stability. He imagined how disturbed the security conference’s founders would be. The forum was formed 50 years ago, at the height of the Cold War, to bring world powers together to discuss and further global stability.
“They would be alarmed by the hardening resentment we see toward immigrants, and refugees, and minority groups, especially Muslims,” McCain said. “They would be alarmed by the growing inability, and even unwillingness, to separate truth from lies. They would be alarmed that more and more of our fellow citizens seem to be flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent.”
In an interview for Sunday’s “Meet the Press” with Chuck Todd, McCain was asked about Trump’s Friday tweet that the press is the “enemy of the American people.”
The Arizona senator warned that a free press is “vital” in order to “preserve democracy as we know it.”
“And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started,” McCain said, clarifying he was not calling Trump a dictator but warning that dictators start by “supressing free press” and “we need to learn the lessons of history.”
Top Republican congressional leaders have sought to curtail intraparty anxiety by noting that while much of what Trump says is unusual and troublesome, in practice, he is actually shaping up as a traditional GOP president. Trump’s supporters say he is still ironing out wrinkles as he adapts to being president.
But others are losing patience with the Trump administration amid qualms about its approach to national security, the U.S.-Russian relationship and the risk to long-standing alliances the United States has cultivated with other nations.
Trump has come under heavy criticism for spearheading a temporary immigration ban on refugees and foreign nationals from seven majority-Muslim nations, which has been temporarily halted by a federal court. He has also drawn fierce blowback for disparaging critical stories about him as “fake news” and responding to a Fox News interviewer telling him Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “killer” by saying, “Do you think our country is so innocent?”
McCain, who said there is concern that “America is laying down the mantle of global leadership,” mentioned several Trump administration officials attending the conference — Vice President Pence, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — as examples of officials committed to maintaining the country’s global role.
Democrats are less subtle.