Republican Senate leaders on Thursday voiced no objections to President Donald Trump’s apparent defense of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s strong-arm tactics, instead highlighting their hopes for peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNN that Trump’s eyebrow-raising defense of Kim’s authoritarian tactics is fine so long as a peaceful resolution in the region can be reached.
In an interview with Fox News on Wednesday, Trump, who said he and Kim “understand each other,” seemed to justify the dictator’s brutal actions against his own people.
“I mean, I could go through a lot of nations where a lot of bad things were done,” Trump said.
Asked by CNN about the remarks in a Capitol Hill hallway Thursday, McConnell declined to criticize the President.
“What I think is that it would be wonderful is if we ended up with a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and I hope that’s where this all ends,” the Kentucky Republican said.
Some other senior Republicans agreed with McConnell’s sentiment.
A couple of GOP senators agreed Trump is saying what he has to say to be able to negotiate with Kim.
“I don’t think the President is under any illusions who he is dealing with,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas.
“He’s trying to do what anyone would do under those circumstances, which is to develop some rapport,” he added.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Trump “had to” downplay the North Korean leader’s record.
“He feels like the things that he’s tried to do are worth doing,” he said, adding, “but I don’t think you can ignore the fact that the man has committed a number of atrocities.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said that while he doesn’t trust the dictator because “he kills his own people,” he understands what Trump is doing.
“The most important human right is to get missiles and bombs out of the hands (of Kim),” he said.
Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, also defended Trump, saying he is using his words to engage in “diplomacy” with North Korea.
“I think anybody who has an intellect above a single cell organism understands that when you negotiate, you don’t immediately walk in and tell your adversary that he’s an ignorant slut and then slap him. That’s not how you do it,” Kennedy told reporters.
He continued: “I think the President is well aware that Kim John Un is a butcher … with a nuclear weapon … And he’s trying to give up those weapons. The President is engaging in what is called diplomacy.”
Two retiring Republican senators, however, were less enthusiastic about Trump’s words.
“I don’t share the President’s feelings towards Kim Jong Un … and I would say most people here don’t,” said Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee. “I couldn’t disagree more fully with his assessment of the leader of North Korea.”
Retiring GOP Sen. Jeff Flake, a frequent critic of the President, said Trump’s statement “turns our values upside down” and that the “the President speaks fondly of dictators regularly.”
When asked if GOP leaders should speak out, Flake said yes.
“It’s time for all of us to say that’s just not acceptable. I wish that our leadership would say more,” the Arizona Republican said.
On Wednesday, Trump declared through a series of tweets that North Korea was no longer a nuclear threat. The statement came despite the lack of concrete proof that North Korea will discontinue its nuclear program.
“Just landed - a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office,” Trump tweeted as he arrived back in Washington. “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”