WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reaffirmed Congress’ commitment to America’s European allies one day after President Donald Trump made provocative comments at a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We value the NATO treaty. Its been the most significant military alliance in world history. We believe the European Union (EU) countries are our friends and the Russians are not,” McConnell (R-Ky.) said at a news conference on Tuesday.
McConnell said the Russians have “demonstrated that (animosity) in all the obvious ways over the last few years.” McConnell cited Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and Moscow’s attempt to meddle in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election as prime examples.
When asked why he, instead of Trump, assumed the task of reassurance, McConnell gave a vague answer that did not include any mention of the president.
“I think it’s important for the Europeans to know how the Senate Republican majority feels about the structures that were painstakingly set up over decades that have worked to maintain world peace and to have some process by which we can enter into trade agreements and other things,” he said. “So I just think it was important for our friends and allies to hear from us.”
Trump and Putin met one-on-one for 90 minutes in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday. Following the meeting both leaders told reporters at a joint news conference that they felt progress was made on discussions related to Syria, fighting ISIS, and arms control.
When asked about the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia meddled in the election, Trump suggested he agreed with Putin’s long-held denial.
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” he said.
Trump called Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s collusion probe “ridiculous,” and said it contributed to heightened tensions between the U.S. and Russia.
The remarks drew bipartisan condemnation.
Trump attended the annual NATO summit in Brussels last week. During the visit he accused Germany of being “captive” to Russian and oil gas markets. Trump praised a political rival of British Prime Minister Theresa May while speaking at a joint news conference with May.
Trump has said NATO countries should contribute more money and manpower to the alliance.