Congressional Republicans are jumping to NATO’s defense following a report that President TrumpDonald TrumpJudge rules Alaska governor unlawfully fired lawyer who criticized Trump Giuliani led fake electors plot: CNN Giuliani associate sentenced to a year in prison in campaign finance case 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.
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 PortmanThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Biden calls Intel's B investment to build chip factories a tool for economic recovery Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine 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 MattisTrump's 'Enemies List' — end of year edition The US can't go back to business as usual with Pakistan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike 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.
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 TillisOvernight Energy & Environment — Starting from 'scratch' on climate, spending bill Hillicon Valley — Senate panel advances major antitrust bill Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products 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 ShaheenSenators introduce bill aimed at protecting Ukrainian civilians Biden huddles with group of senators on Ukraine-Russia tensions Former aide says she felt 'abandoned' by Democrats who advanced Garcetti nomination as ambassador to India 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 RomneyTrump remembers former 'Apprentice' contestant Meat Loaf: 'Great guy' Rock legend, actor Meat Loaf dies at 74 Effort to overhaul archaic election law wins new momentum 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.”