Senate

With caveats, Republicans praise Trump’s summit with Kim Jong Un

Anna Moneymaker

President Trump’s highly anticipated meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un largely attracted praise from congressional Republicans, but they also expressed wariness and want to sign off on any agreement. 

Republicans said this week’s summit was a promising first step, but some expressed concern about Trump’s warm words for the North Korean leader and his surprise call to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea, a longtime ally.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) praised it as “an historic first step in an important negotiation.”

{mosads}Even so, he acknowledged that finding a long-term diplomatic solution “will take a great deal of hard work” and warned that allies must be ready to impose economic penalties if North Korea is not willing to follow through on its promises.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) commended Trump “for not accepting the status quo.”

But he also warned against celebrating a diplomatic victory prematurely.

“We must always be clear that we are dealing with a brutal regime with a long history of deceit,” he said in a statement. “Only time will tell if North Korea is serious this time, and in the meantime we must continue to apply maximum economic pressure.” 

Some Republicans raised concerns about Trump’s call to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea, something that took the Pentagon by surprise.

“I don’t think that’s wise because we have done these exercises for years,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who chairs a Senate Armed Services subcommittee, said Tuesday. “I would just ask the president, why do we need to suspend them? They are legal.”

Other Republicans balked at Trump’s effusive praise for Kim, who he said has a “great personality” and is “very smart.”

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a Trump critic, said he wouldn’t have made those kinds of remarks.

Trump called into the weekly Senate Republican lunch on Tuesday to tout the Singapore summit as he flew back to the United States aboard Air Force One.

Republicans in the meeting said Trump sounded jubilant about what he touted as a successful meeting.

Democrats, meanwhile, went on the attack Tuesday, condemning the president for legitimizing what they say is a brutal regime and for appearing too eager to strike a deal.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) blasted Trump for giving “a brutal and repressive dictatorship the international legitimacy it has long craved.”

He also faulted Trump for rushing into a deal with Kim and failing to secure detailed objectives.

“It is best not to dive in head-first and hope for the best but rather to work slowly, transparently and verifiably to build trust and lock in concessions,” Schumer warned on the Senate floor.

He questioned the lack of detail on how to achieve a pathway to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and on how to verify that North Korea has disarmed.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said Trump gave away too much and received little in return.

“In his haste to reach an agreement, President Trump elevated North Korea to the level of the United States while preserving the regime’s status quo,” she said in statement.

Pelosi added Trump only won “vague promises” from Kim and failed to lock down a “clear and comprehensive pathway to denuclearization and non-proliferation.”

But while Republicans acknowledged that the Trump administration has a long way to go to negotiate an acceptable final deal with North Korea, many of them praised him for making the effort.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), an emerging influential voice on national security issues within the Senate GOP conference, said Trump must deal directly with North Korea because it’s a nuclear power.

“It’s not something that we should celebrate. It’s not a pretty sight. But it’s a necessary part of the job to try to protect Americans from a terrible threat,” Cotton told conservative talk-show host Hugh Hewitt.

Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) warned of dire consequences for North Korea if Kim proves to be negotiating in bad faith.

“If Kim Jong-un throws away this opportunity, it will mean the military destruction of his country and his death,” he said in a statement.

Republicans made clear Tuesday that they don’t want a repeat of former President Obama’s historic deal with Iran — another longtime U.S. enemy — which did not have to clear the high bar of winning supermajority approval in the Senate.

Instead, the Senate voted on a resolution of disapproval on the Iran deal, which fell short of the 60 votes it needed.

GOP lawmakers say they want any deal with North Korea to be considered as a treaty, which would require 67 votes to pass the Senate.

“I think there would be widespread interest in Congress for having involvement. … [If] the president can reach a significant agreement with North Korea, I hope it takes the form of a treaty,” McConnell told reporters after meeting with the GOP conference.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has indicated that the administration plans to send any future agreement to Capitol Hill for approval.

“Yeah, assuming there is a final agreement, they’ve indicated that they would bring that agreement to us in the form of a treaty,” Corker said of the administration.  

Obama negotiated the Iran deal as a commitment among nations to sidestep the need for congressional approval, which angered many GOP lawmakers at the time.

“I think when you’re talking about something as profound as maybe ending a war that we’ve been in for about 70 years. … I think it should take congressional action to solidify it,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

Jordain Carney and Melanie Zanona contributed.

Tags Bob Corker Charles Schumer Donald Trump Jeff Flake Joni Ernst Mike Pompeo Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Paul Ryan Thom Tillis Tom Cotton Tom Reed U.S.-North Korea summit
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more

Video

See all Video