Trump hails Hungarian leader: 'Probably like me a little bit controversial, but that's OK'

Trump hails Hungarian leader: 'Probably like me a little bit controversial, but that's OK'
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE on Monday offered praise for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, welcoming him to the White House despite concerns from lawmakers in both parties about the erosion of democratic institutions in Hungary.

Trump and Orbán spoke briefly with reporters in the Oval Office, where the president called it a "great honor" to host the prime minister.

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"Probably like me a little bit controversial, but that’s OK," Trump said of Orbán. "You’ve done a good job, and you’ve kept your country safe."

Asked if he was concerned about "democratic backsliding" in Hungary, Trump responded that he has "a lot of respect" for the prime minister.

"I know he’s a tough man, but he’s a respected man," Trump said, adding that Orbán is doing "the right thing" with his hard-line immigration policy.

Orbán, meanwhile, defended his government, saying it was "elected by the Hungarian people several times."

Trump also expressed appreciation for Orbán's treatment of Christian communities, something the prime minister raised in his opening remarks.

"I would like to express that we are proud to stand with the United States on fighting against illegal migration, terrorism and to protect and help the Christian communities all around the world," Orbán said.

The two said they expected to discuss trade, their strategic alliance as members of NATO and global political issues.

Monday marked Orbán's first time meeting with a sitting president at the White House since the Clinton administration. 

Orbán served as prime minister from 1998 to 2002, then won the job back in 2010. He secured a third term last year, winning reelection after portraying immigrants and Muslims as a threat to Hungary's way of life. He has also targeted Jewish billionaire and Hungary native George Soros, who shuttered his school in Budapest late last year after a battle with the government.

Senators on the Foreign Affairs Committee had urged Trump to confront the prime minister about his incendiary rhetoric on migrants and his efforts to curb dissent, while House Democrats called on Trump to postpone the meeting altogether.

U.S. lawmakers and international watchdogs have noted that under Orbán, Hungarian elections have become less competitive, press freedom has declined and the prime minister has exerted control over the judiciary. Lawmakers also warned against growing cooperation between Russia and Hungary.

Updated at 3:04 p.m.