GOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering

GOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering
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Congressional Republicans are jumping to NATO’s defense following a report that President TrumpDonald John TrumpChelsea Clinton announces birth of third child Ukrainian officials and Giuliani are sharing back-channel campaign information: report Trump attacks 'the Squad' as 'racist group of troublemakers' MORE has repeatedly suggested U.S. withdrawal from the 70-year-old military alliance.

Trump has frequently disparaged the international body, seen by many as a cornerstone of the post-World War II world order, ever since he began his presidential campaign in 2015.

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But on Capitol Hill Tuesday, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle voiced their strong support for the alliance when asked about Trump’s reported desire to leave the organization.

“NATO is one of the great accomplishments of the last century,” Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanFighting the opioid epidemic: Congress can't just pass laws, but must also push to enforce them The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Rising number of GOP lawmakers criticize Trump remarks about minority Dems MORE (R-Ohio) said, adding that to this day it is “almost uniquely successful at keeping the peace.”

The New York Times reported Monday that Trump privately told aides several times over the past year that he wants to withdraw from NATO, the 29-country alliance that includes Canada and European nations.

One of the occasions when Trump reportedly raised the issue of withdrawal was the lead-up to the NATO summit in July, when he told his top national security officials he did not see the point of the alliance and thought it was a drain on the United States.

The summit was soon followed by Trump’s meeting in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Weakening NATO has long been one of Putin’s goals, and a U.S. withdrawal would accomplish that without any action on Russia’s part.

Since then, one of the strongest supporters of NATO has left the Trump administration. Former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony This week: Mueller dominates chaotic week on Capitol Hill Watchdog: Former Pentagon spokeswoman misused staff for personal errands MORE resigned last month, and in his resignation letter he cited differences of opinion with Trump on alliances, highlighting NATO and the anti-ISIS coalition.

Congressional Republicans appeared doubtful that Trump might be more likely to withdraw from NATO now that Mattis has left.

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Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanAlarm sounds over census cybersecurity concerns Senate sets new voting record with Iran war measure Overnight Defense: Trump says he doesn't need exit strategy with Iran | McConnell open to vote on Iran war authorization | Senate panel advances bill to restrict emergency arms sales MORE (R-Alaska) said Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump calls Iran claim that it arrested CIA spies 'totally false' The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony Pompeo: There's 'no indication' Iran will change direction MORE and Pentagon officials, like acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanThis week: Mueller dominates chaotic week on Capitol Hill Overnight Defense: US shoots down Iranian drone | Pentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia | Trump mulls Turkey sanctions | Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract Pentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia: reports MORE and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood, “recognize the importance of allies.”

Congress has stepped up to defend the alliance during the Trump presidency after reports of the commander in chief’s wavering support for it. In July, lawmakers easily passed a resolution that declared NATO “the most important and critical security link between the United States and Europe.”

Last year, senators also revived the NATO Observer Group, designed to coordinate Senate efforts and demonstrate the U.S. commitment to the alliance. Senators at the time downplayed Trump’s connection to the timing of the revival, saying it was more about Russia’s aggressive actions.

On Tuesday, Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisRepublicans scramble to contain Trump fallout McConnell says Trump is not a racist, but calls for better rhetoric GOP senator: 'Outrageous' to say Trump's tweets about Democratic congresswomen are racist MORE (N.C.), the Republican co-chair of the Observer Group, said Congress is “solidly behind the NATO alliance.”

Tillis said he thinks Trump “was frustrated with the lack of financial engagement” by some allies and credited his “rhetoric” with helping increase their defense spending.

During the NATO summit in July, Trump called for member states to double their defense spending to 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). At the time, reports also surfaced that Trump told NATO allies that the United States could “go it alone” if they didn’t ramp up military spending.

“But make no mistake about it: I think Congress is solidly behind the NATO alliance, and I know as co-chair of the NATO Senate Observer Group, I am,” Tillis said.

In a joint statement later that day with co-chair Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator How to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian energy Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse MORE (D-N.H.), the two lawmakers touted NATO’s “broad bipartisan support.”

“Progress has been steadily made to ensure all NATO members are paying their fair share of dues, and it’s imperative that the United States work with allies to strengthen the transatlantic bonds that have kept us safe for 70 years and modernize NATO to respond to hybrid warfare and other threats to global security,” they said.

“For these reasons, the Senate stands ready to defend NATO,” the senators said, adding that they hope to soon welcome Macedonia into the alliance.

Trump is facing increased scrutiny for his stance on Russia.

The Times reported on Friday that the FBI became so worried about Trump’s behavior toward Moscow in 2017 that it opened an investigation into whether he was working on Russia’s behalf. The Washington Post reported the following day that Trump sought to withhold details of his conversations with Putin from other administration officials.

The mounting articles prompted Trump to publicly push back on the accounts.

“I never worked for Russia,” Trump told reporters on Monday. “Not only did I never work for Russia, I think it’s a disgrace that you even asked that question because it’s a whole big fat hoax.”

In a sign of increasing concerns over Trump’s foreign policy, the Senate voted 57-42 on Tuesday to advance a bill that would block Trump’s plan to lift sanctions on three Russian companies.

Trump’s views on NATO are no secret. During the 2016 presidential race, he questioned whether he would come to the defense of allies that do not meet NATO’s spending goals.

Allies pledged in 2014 to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense by 2024. Eight member states are now meeting the goal, with 15 expected to be there in the next five years.

Even with those remarks, some of the president’s less enthusiastic supporters say a withdrawal isn’t likely.

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyDemocrats should rise above and unify against Trump's tweets Trump steps up attacks on 'Squad' after post-rally furor Media cried wolf: Calling every Republican a racist lost its bite MORE (R-Utah), who has an on-again, off-again rivalry with Trump, said he “can’t imagine” Trump would withdraw.

“NATO is an entity that has helped keep the world safe, kept us out of global conflict and has led to prosperity and peace, so I am a very strong supporter of NATO and our commitment to NATO,” he said. “I can’t imagine that the president or the administration have any interest in doing anything other than strengthening NATO and strengthening our commitment to it.”