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 TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report 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 PortmanWhy Republicans are afraid to call a key witness in the impeachment inquiry Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump GOP lawmakers fear Trump becoming too consumed by impeachment fight 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 MattisOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Amazon to challenge Pentagon's 'war cloud' decision in federal court Former Mattis staffer: Trump 'shooting himself in the foot' on foreign policy 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 SullivanRomney, Collins, Murkowski only Senate GOP holdouts on Graham's impeachment resolution GOP worries it's losing impeachment fight Senate GOP introduces resolution condemning House impeachment inquiry MORE (R-Alaska) said Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoImpeachment battle looms over must-pass defense bill Five takeaways from ex-ambassador's dramatic testimony Pompeo: No US response ruled out in Hong Kong MORE and Pentagon officials, like acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanDefense chief calls on European allies to be wary of China's investments, blasts Russia Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall Why Dave Norquist is the perfect choice for DOD's deputy secretary 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 TillisThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Progressive veterans group launches campaign labeling Trump as a 'national security threat' Trump rules out total rollback of Chinese tariffs 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 ShaheenOn The Money: US paid record .1B in tariffs in September | Dems ramp up oversight of 'opportunity zones' | Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows Overnight Defense: Trump, Erdogan confirm White House meeting | Public impeachment hearings set for next week | Top defense appropriator retiring 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 RomneyDeval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne Ocasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field Jon Huntsman expected to run for governor in Utah 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.”