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Trump allies back his NATO comments, but some Republicans say they were a ‘mistake’

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(WASHINGTON) — Some of former President Donald Trump’s closest Senate allies were out in force on Monday defending his comments over the weekend that even further call into question Trump’s commitments to the United States’ NATO allies.

Multiple Republican senators backed Trump’s remarks on Saturday that he’d “encourage” Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to NATO-aligned countries that don’t meet their financial obligations to the alliance.

Trump’s remarks echo his long-standing criticism of the role the U.S. plays in providing security for other countries — including major allies. The former president’s comments also come as he attempts to squash a foreign aid bill in the Senate that would provide billions of dollars more in support to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., a close Trump ally, said he’s “100% behind him” in his push to get NATO countries to pay more money toward their self-defense.

Asked how allied countries should feel about a potential invasion from Russia after Trump’s remarks, Tuberville doubled down.

“I would be worried. I would be very worried. Especially if they don’t have 2% of their GDP in defense. I mean you’ve got to be able to protect yourself — we can’t protect everybody,” Tuberville said to ABC News. “It’s their country, they’ve got to defend it. We would love to help, but if you’re not going to defend your own country, why should our taxpayers defend it for them?”

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., said allied nations that are concerned about Trump’s comments need to “get over it.”

“They need to stand up and be tough. We need to secure our own border first. We need to take care of things here at home first. When we secure our own border and we take care of home, then great, let’s help other people as well,” Marshall said.

Marshall said it was important not to “overreact” to Trump’s comments.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, joined Marshall in saying Trump’s remarks ought to be taken “seriously, but not literally.”

But Cornyn did add that he believes the United States should remain committed to the alliance.

“The message should be that the United States will live up to its treaty obligations no matter who is president,” Cornyn said.

Some Senate Republicans had more aggressive rebukes for Trump.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., called it a “mistake” for Trump to so pointedly encourage Russia to have its way with other countries, even as he backed calls for NATO nations to meet their financial obligations.

“So I think it was very important what Trump was saying that they need to pay their fair share and they need to pay their way,” Paul said. “I think it was a mistake to say he would encourage Russia to attack them. I think that was a careless remark and shouldn’t have been said.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said on Sunday that Trump’s comments were “uncalled for.”

While NATO allies need to uphold their end of the bargain, Murkowski said, there’s no need to be suggesting that the United States might throw its NATO allies “to the Russian wolves.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said on Sunday that he believes Trump often makes comments to “elicit media and applause and outrage” with “no intent” of action. But whatever his motives, casting doubt on the United States’ obligation to its commitments could have a cost, said Romney — an outspoken critic of Trump.

“Even if he did it just to get a rise from the audience and the media and the world at large, it has dangerous implications because people in other nations read it with concern and make their calculations accordingly — and that has an impact in our standing in the world,” Romney said on Sunday. “We’re going to lose friends if we go around saying that we’re not going to protect them under the obligations we have under NATO.”

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