Story highlights

Sen. John McCain told U.S. allies to watch what Trump does, not what he says, and praised the White House national security team in an interview Sunday

McCain also called for increased military spending, and sounded hesitant to embrace the Trump tax plan outlined last week

CNN  — 

Sen. John McCain has a message for US allies confused by the mixed messages and miscommunications coming from the White House on foreign policy: “Sometimes it’s important to watch what the President does rather than what he says.”

McCain was asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday what he tells world leaders when President Donald Trump and his administration aren’t on the same page – as happened when the President declared in early April that an aircraft carrier strike group was headed to South Korea only for it to be revealed days later that the naval group was not on its way there after all.

“I tell them that [Trump is] surrounding himself with an outstanding national security team,” McCain told anchor Jake Tapper, echoing his past praise for Secretary of Defense James Mattis and national security adviser H.R. McMaster. “I can’t guarantee to world leaders that he will always listen to them, but he has so far.”

The latest example of Trump’s White House sending mixed messages to allies that prompted the line of questioning: On Saturday night, McMaster spoke to the South Korean director of national security, Kim Kwan-jin, to reaffirm that the US would cover the cost of an antiballistic missile system, the theater high-altitude air defense system, recently deployed to the country. But the remarks came after Trump told Reuters in an interview that he wanted Seoul to pay for it.

McMaster explained in a separate interview on “Fox News Sunday” that Trump meant the statements in a general way, in line with US public expectations on burden-sharing with allies.

“What I told our South Korean counterpart is, until any renegotiation, that the deal is in place,” he said. “We will adhere to our word. But what the President has asked us to do is to look across all of our alliances and to have appropriate burden-sharing, responsibility-sharing.”

On “State of the Union,” McCain also cited the tension on the Korean peninsula as a reason for Congress to end the sequestration of funding and increase military spending, calling the status quo, which he said has degraded the capabilities of the US military, a “disgrace.”

“I’m embarrassed that the Congress of the United States continue to sequester,” McCain said. “We need a Congress that will fund and authorize this kind of action because right now our military is in very bad shape.”

McCain was asked later in the interview about the Trump administration’s outline for tax reform, having been reminded by Tapper that he was one of only two Republicans to vote against the Bush tax cuts in 2001, when he cited concerns over income inequality.

“Will you oppose the Trump plan as you did the Bush plan, and are you concerned about how much of it is shifting money towards the wealthiest Americans?” Tapper asked.

McCain hedged: “Jake, this is the opening bid. Obviously, we haven’t even seriously put together anything in the [Senate]. The President proposes, obviously, we’ll see how we dispose.”

“I do believe that the first step should be to reduce the corporate tax rate,” he said. “I wonder if maybe we could take it step by step. But I would have to see the whole plan.”

The Arizona senator said the potential effects of the tax plan on income inequality are “a concern,” but noted “we’ve got to stimulate this economy” and suggested that a combination of tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks are “fine” and could grow the economy.