Republican hawks defend Trump over controversial NATO comments

 February 13, 2024

Donald Trump's controversial comments about NATO have faced little pushback from usually hawkish Senate Republicans - a sign of Trump's influence and the nearly unanimous recognition that he will be his party's nominee for president in 2024. 

Some Republicans long seen as stalwarts of the foreign policy establishment, such as Lindsey Graham (R-Sc.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), even voted against a foreign aid bill to support Israel and Ukraine on Tuesday, although it still passed with support from 22 Republicans.

The vote come days after Trump caused a furor by bashing NATO and suggesting he would allow Russia to invade alliance members that are delinquent.

GOP hawks defend Trump

The comments fit a familiar theme from Trump, who has sometimes questioned NATO's reason for existing in a post-Cold War reality while accusing member countries of taking advantage of the United States.

“Give me a break — I mean, it’s Trump,” Graham told the New York Times. "All I can say is while Trump was president nobody invaded anybody. I think the point here is to, in his way, to get people to pay.”

Even a few years ago, Trump's comments would have sparked furious backlash in a Republican Senate still largely guided by the establishment views of Mitch McConnell (Ky.), a vocal Russia hawk and a longtime Trump foe.

Trump now has the endorsement of every major Republican leader in Congress with the exceptions of McConnell and John Thune (R-Sd.), the first and second highest ranking GOP senators.

Some Republicans have dismissed Trump's NATO rhetoric as bluster, noting that his actual foreign policy with Russia was fairly hawkish. Trump has often argued that the invasion of Ukraine would not have occurred if he were still president.

"I have zero concern, because he’s been president before," Rubio told CNN on Sunday.

Foreign aid bill passes

The Senate was still able to pass a nearly $100 billion foreign aid package to Israel and Ukraine on Tuesday, over Trump's objections and despite opposition from well-known hawks like Graham, Rubio, and Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ak.).

The package has faced opposition from Trump and others who say it unfairly prioritizes the needs of foreign countries over the United States, at a time when illegal immigration is at record highs.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has vowed to oppose the foreign aid bill, while President Biden has taken the opportunity to blast Trump's opposition as "dumb" and "un-American."

"No other president in our history has ever bowed down to a Russian dictator. Let me say this as clearly as I can — I never will," he said.

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