Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on Tuesday admonished President Trump’s praise of various authoritarian leaders around the globe, calling his apparent affinity for such figures “very disturbing.”
“I don’t understand it, and I don’t think that the president appreciates the fact that when he says things like that, it helps the credibility and the prestige of this really outrageous strongman,” McCain said. “You know, the largest gulag left on earth is in North Korea, and we all know about their human rights abuses.”
“I think it’s very disturbing,” he later added.
Trump sparked some backlash the day before when he told Bloomberg News that he would meet with Kim if it were “appropriate” and “under the right circumstances.” That comment followed the revelation that Trump had extended an invitation to the White House to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
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During the daily press briefing Monday, the New York Times’ Glenn Thrush needled White House press secretary Sean Spicer on the president’s affection for Kim and Duterte, as well as past gestures to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. (Trump, who showered Putin with praise during the 2016 campaign, is set to talk to the Russian leader over the phone Tuesday afternoon.)
“Does the president have a thing with these totalitarian leaders?” Thrush asked. “Does he admire something about the way these guys conduct themselves?”
Spicer responded by zeroing in on Trump’s comments to Bloomberg, characterizing them as “diplomatically, economically and militarily” important to address the threat of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. Other than Kim, the strongmen cited in the question have little to no connection to negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear program.
McCain has been a full-throated critic of Trump’s, both during his candidacy and presidency, but has consistently praised the administration’s national security team. And he seemed to warm to Trump after the president launched a missile strike against Syria in April. He highlighted that tension on “Morning Joe.”
“There are many things that the president has done that I strongly support as far as national security,” McCain said. “But the statements and the comments obviously fly in the face of everything I’ve stood for and believed in all my life.”
Although the veteran senator and former presidential candidate pointedly advised Trump to “consider much more carefully his comments,” he tempered his criticism with a somewhat wistful prediction.
“Presidents grow in office,” McCain said. “I still believe this president can grow in office.”
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