Trump faces criticism for hosting Hungary’s leader

President Trump on Monday is hosting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the White House amid widespread concern from lawmakers over the foreign leader’s incendiary comments about immigrants and increasingly cozy relationship with Russia.

Bipartisan members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have urged the president to press the prime minister on human rights concerns and the erosion of democratic institutions in Hungary, while Democrats in the House have called on Trump to postpone the visit entirely.

{mosads}Four members of the committee — Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) — wrote to Trump on Friday to raise concerns about “Hungary’s downward democratic trajectory.”

The senators noted that under Orbán, Hungarian elections have become less competitive and press freedom has declined and the prime minister has exerted control over the judiciary. The committee members also warned against growing cooperation between Russia and Hungary.

“We recognize that Hungary has an important security role in NATO,” the senators wrote. “We urge you, however, to not diminish the importance of democratic values in our bilateral relationship with Budapest.”

A group of 10 House Democrats, led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, wrote to Trump last Friday urging him to call off the meeting with Orbán.

“It troubles us to see the President of our country, which has historically supported the protection and promotion of democracy and human rights worldwide, meeting with a man who so regularly disregards these values,” the lawmakers wrote.

Monday marks Orbán’s first meeting with a president at the White House since the Clinton administration. Orbán served as prime minister from 1998 to 2002, and won back the job in 2010. 

Orbán secured a third term last year, winning reelection after portraying immigrants and Muslims as a threat to Hungary’s way of life during the campaign. His inflammatory rhetoric and efforts to curb dissent have drawn rebukes from international watchdogs.

The issue of migration has caused friction among European nations, and Trump has previously opined that Europe is “losing its culture” due to the influx of refugees and asylum-seekers.

The White House defended the decision to host Orbán, telling reporters on a conference call on Friday that the meeting is part of a broader effort to engage with NATO allies and Eastern European leaders. Trump met recently with the heads of state from Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

“I think what we want to focus on with our Hungarian counterparts and with the Prime Minister, and as we actually have in many of the meetings, is how one tackles some of the broader issues,” a senior administration official said. “In terms of migration, we’ve certainly made very strong statements to them about making sure that you have proper policies.

“If you’re talking about border management and questions about how you handle legal migration, a lot of these discussions have been perfectly sensible, frankly, with our Hungarian counterparts,” the official added.

Democrats on Monday lined up to criticize Trump over the visit, suggesting the president saw a like-minded leader in Orbán.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) tweeted that Trump was giving “an attaboy approval” to Orbán by agreeing to meet with the prime minister.

“By meeting w/ Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban today, Donald Trump is giving tacit approval for his racist, misogynist, ‘soft fascism,'” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a tweet.

“America needs a President who challenges authoritarians, not one who welcomes them to the White House for a how-to,” he continued. 

Tags Donald Trump Ed Markey Eliot Engel Hungary Jeanne Shaheen Marco Rubio White House meeting
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