Nato comes to Washington. Republicans have a warning

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It’s Nato week in Washington. That means that traffic is backed up, metro stops are closed and American allies have descended on the nation’s capital to focus on its longstanding support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on its 75th anniversary.

Ostensibly, this should be a moment of celebration. Nato coming to Washington should symbolize America’s status as a world leader. Amid the war in Ukraine, President Joe Biden and allies have shown a unified front against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression.

Indeed, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a major supporter of Ukraine, introduced Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the Reagan Institute (a reminder of a bygone era when Republicans supported the robust American interventionism that the institute’s namesake championed.) House Speaker Mike Johnson and Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries met with Zelensky and newly-minted UK Prime Minister Keir Starmer, a sign they still want to make maintain the Cold War line that politics ends at water’s edge.

But like with everything in Washington, especially as Biden’s re-election remains precarious, the specter of Donald Trump looms large over the summit. Trump has, of course, shown hostility to Nato. In February, that he said that when it comes to Nato allies who do not agree to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense, not only would the United States not defend their countries from a Russian attack but “I would encourage them [the Russians] to do whatever the hell they want.”

Back in February, most Republicans brushed off Trump’s remarks. Senator Rand Paul, one of the most isolationist Republicans, told The Independent that Trump’s remarks were a “stupid thing to say.” Senator Roger Marshall of Kansas said, “I think that people need to realize that you should take everything that he says seriously, but not literally.”

Now that his presidency seems likelier each day, Republicans are adopting the Trump line.

Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, the most dyed-in-wool MAGA Republican, chided Nato when I spoke with him on Wednesday.

“Well, first of all, I’d like to say thanks to the American taxpayers for last 75 years paying for the security of Nato,” he told The Independent. “We need to hold the hat out when they get on their private jets and fly home and said, ‘Hey, put money in this hat, we need you to pay up for you to leave.’ That’s what President Trump is all about.”

This has long been a complaint of Republicans: claiming that the United States shoulders an unfair amount of the burden.

Ironically, Biden has specifically mentioned that only nine countries in Nato spent the 2 percent before he took office, whereas 23 countries will in 2024. Of course, that has not stopped Republicans from complaining.

“I think what President Trump’s been pretty clear about — and I share the point of view — is that it’s time for our Nato allies to step up from a financial perspective,” Senator Eric Schmitt of Missouri told The Independent. “I think the American people don’t appreciate subsidizing the social programs of European countries when they don’t pay enough for their percentage of their GDP to defense.”

Republicans who preceded Trump also said that they believed in Nato but that the countries needed to cough up dough.

“I think the commitment to Nato is critical, but I also think the Nato needs to do more,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas told The Independent. The son of Texas — who came of age in the time of the Bushes touting international order — Cornyn is one of the two frontrunners to replace McConnell at the end of the year. But he is clearly easing into the Trump, “America First” approach to foreign policy.

Earlier this year, Congress struggled to pass a spending package that would have swapped aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan in exchange for immigration restrictions, largely because of Trump’s objections. It took the Senate passing a standalone aid package — which Democrats wanted in the first place — and many more months for the House to pass aid to Ukraine.

Incidentally, it’s Senate Democrats who are more willing to defend America’s role as a world leader. Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona told The Independent that “in the case of Nato, he’s already done the damage” by saying he would not honor the defend a member nation that is attacked.

“If you just listen to what Donald Trump has said and continues to say about not only Nato, but about other alliances, he is a danger to national security,” Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona told The Independent.

It’s a far cry from the days of John McCain, the hawkish 2008 Republican presidential nominee whose seat Kelly is in now and who, Kelly added, he “really looked up to”.

Conversely, McCain’s former best friend in the Senate, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, echoed Trump, as he does in many other cases. Graham said Nato countries “should be ready to contribute more” and kept it at that.

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