US lawmakers abroad seek to reassure allies despite Trump comments
Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images(WASHINGTON)– Lawmakers on official overseas trips this congressional recess have made public comments appearing to reassure foreign partners that the U.S. relationship with their countries is not changing for the worse, despite remarks from President Donald Trump that can make those partners think otherwise.
Here’s a look at where members of Congress have been traveling on trips known as CODELs – short for congressional delegations – and what they’ve been saying while abroad:
MUNICH SECURITY CONFERENCE – MUNICH, GERMANY
Attendees: Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Rep. Mike Turner, R-Tenn., and Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.
The public message from the American lawmakers at this gathering of U.S. and European officials seemed clear and bipartisan: the U.S. commitment to its relationships with European partners has not changed despite the president’s sometimes heated rhetoric.
“The Trump administration is still making the transition from campaign rhetoric to governing. Those who have made it reflect a continuation of a very longstanding U.S. tradition of support for the Atlantic alliance, support for NATO, support for freedom and a strong desire to push back against falsehood with truth and a strong desire to push back against bullying with teamwork,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat, said.
“The values are the same, the relationships are the same,” Republican Rep. Mike Turner added.
Trump has previously sent mixed messages about NATO and its fundamental concept of mutual defense. On the campaign trail, he repeatedly called it “obsolete” and accused European nations of not contributing their fair share, but last year, after a meeting with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, declared NATO “no longer obsolete.”
In a statement after the Munich conference, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse implicitly pushed back on Trump once calling NATO “obsolete.”
“NATO is the most successful military alliance in modern history. It won the Cold War and is currently keeping Putin’s neo-Soviet ambitions in check. Moscow wants to destroy NATO and is waging a shadow war to undermine confidence in self-government here in the United States and across Europe. Nobody at the Munich Security Conference is asleep to that threat.”
At least one administration official also appeared to want to send the message that the U.S. is in lockstep with Europe over confronting challenges like Russia, which has interfered with both U.S. and European elections.
It was in Munich this past weekend that the president’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said there was “incontrovertible” evidence that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, following the indictments of 13 Russian nationals by special counsel Robert Mueller.
That prompted a Trump tweet seeking to correct McMaster.
“GRAHAM CODEL” – JORDAN, UK
Attendees: Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.
After the Munich Security Conference, Graham brought seven Senate colleagues on a multi-country codel, which so far has included visits to Jordan and the UK.
The U.S. Embassy in Jordan shared pictures of Graham and his colleagues meeting with King Abdullah and his wife Queen Rania as well Graham touring the ancient city of Petra.
On this trip too, the senators reassured the key Mideast ally of U.S. continuity on at least one critical regional issue: the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. That – despite Trump’s inflammatory statements that stand to fundamentally reshape relations, namely his announcement that the U.S. would move its embassy to Jerusalem and formally recognize that city as Israel’s capital.
The Jordan Times reported that, during a news conference at the embassy in Amman, Graham and Coons “emphasized the U.S.’ commitment to peace and stressed that the decision does not mark the end of the two-state solution,” despite Palestinians and their regional neighbors saying the U.S. announcement on Israel undermined the peace process.
The two senators reportedly also told their Jordanian allies that the U.S. was likely to send even more funds to Jordan than the $6.3 billion promised over five years, in order to support Jordan for taking in refugees from neighboring Iraq and Syria.
According to the AP, Graham said a recently-signed memo granting Jordan $1.275 billion was a “floor” and that Congress was likely to approve more funding.
“REED CODEL” – JORDAN, SOMALIA, REPUBLIC OF DJIBOUTI
Attendee: Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, was traveling throughout the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, his office announced. His stops include Jordan, Somalia, the Republic of Djibouti and other nations.
He was scheduled to meet with U.S. forces, diplomats and embassy personnel and high-ranking foreign leaders, his office said. He was also to meet with the leaders of U.S. European Command (EUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).
“LEAHY CODEL” – HAVANA, CUBA
Attendees: Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif.
Leahy led this congressional delegation to Havana through Wednesday in order to, in part, assess “the impact of the withdrawal of U.S. Embassy and Cuban Embassy personnel and of revised Treasury Department regulations on U.S.- Cuban relations.”
Last year, Trump tightened the economic embargo on Cuba as part of his efforts to undo President Barack Obama’s loosening of restrictions against U.S. travel to – and economic engagement with – Cuba.
Trump also expelled Cuban diplomats after 24 American diplomats in Havana started reporting the same mysterious ailments that the FBI has said could have been caused by a “sonic attack.”
McGovern said the embassy staff cuts affect ordinary Cubans, “making it virtually impossible for the average Cuban to go the United States, whether it’s for a funeral, wedding, or to be able to be with their families, betrays our values,” he said. “It’s not the way we should be approaching this. And that’s why we all want our staffing issues addressed here.”
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