With the world looking for reassurance from President Donald Trump’s administration about the United States’ role in international organizations and its place on the world stage, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said Sunday that U.S. allies “feel better” on that front after Vice President Mike Pence’s speech in Munich.
“A lot of people over here believe it’s going back to 20s and 30s isolationism where America sort of retreats from the region,” Graham said of the president’s “America first” rhetoric. “Vice President Pence’s speech was terrific. We’re going to be more involved in NATO, not less. We’re going to have more troops supporting our friends in Europe against aggression by Russia, so I think they feel much better after hearing Vice President Pence and Mattis.”
Graham, speaking to “Face the Nation” from Munich, was in Germany for the annual Munich Security Conference. On Saturday, Pence told the gathering of foreign leaders and security experts that the U.S. “strongly supports” NATO and will “hold Russia accountable” for its actions.
Graham said accountability for Russia should begin with strong sanctions, and also includes helping U.S. allies -- particularly in the Baltics -- to resist moves of aggression from Russia.
“Hit Russia hard for trying to break the backbone of democracy and be more supportive of our friends,” Graham said. “That’s what I’m -- that’s what I’m looking for.”
Russia has become “more aggressive” toward the rest of the world since the U.S. election in November, Graham added.
“Russia has interfered in every democracy in their backyard. They’re coming after the French and the Germans,” he said. “They tried to interfere in our election even though they didn’t change the outcome. … The bottom line is it is now time to punish Russia for trying to break the backbone of democracy for interfering in our election and my goal is to put sanctions on Russia based on interfering in our election on President Trump’s desk.”
He criticized Mr. Trump’s response to Russia, saying he has “never shown any real willingness” to condemn Russia’s election interference.
“If we forgive and forget about what Russia did in our own election, we’ll invite aggression in the next election by Chinese and the Iranians,” he said. “It was Democrats this time. It could be Republicans next time.”
One month into the Trump presidency, Graham said the administration has done some good things -- like approving the Keystone XL pipeline -- and some things that “did not go very well,” like the rollout of the travel ban. But ultimately, Graham said, he is “feeling better” about the strong team Mr. Trump has surrounded himself with.
“Here’s what I’m feeling better about: the people around President Trump. His Cabinet is terrific in terms of quality: Mattis, Tillerson, General Kelly,” he said. “We need to get a good national security advisor. Reince Priebus, I’ve known him for years, he has a good relationship with the Hill. So he’s got a good team around him, they have stumbled. But let’s just wait and see what this year holds.”
Graham also criticized Mr. Trump for calling the media “enemies of the American people,” but said the media overplays its hand when it comes to covering the Trump White House.
“The backbone of democracy is a free press and and independent judiciary and they’re worth fighting and dying for,” he said.
“But I would say this to the American press corps: When it comes to Trump, you’re over the top,” he continued. “You’re acting more like an opposition party. Every president has had problems with the press. You need to do your job but from a Republican point of view, I think the coverage against President Trump has been almost to the point of being hysterical.”