Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) strongly defended the Trump-Putin summit during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday, criticizing legislation that would undermine the President’s ability to negotiate with Russia.
He started by asking Pompeo whether the administration stood by its decision to launch the groundbreaking summit with the Russian President.
“I think we can meet with less than perfect citizens of the world, and hopefully move the ball in the right direction. Second, I think it was more than appropriate that President Trump meet with Vladimir Putin,” Pompeo replied.
Paul appeared to agree with Pompeo’s sentiment on the U.S. administration’s renewed diplomatic engagement with Russia.
“My personal opinion is that I think we need to deescalate some of the partisan tensions in our country and try to look towards some of the ways in which we can talk to foreign leaders,” Paul stated. “Not be so simplistic that somehow they have to have a perfect record or that we have to shout and scream.”
Rand went on to criticize politicians of both parties who were urging Trump to take a more confrontational approach towards Putin by citing examples of past diplomacy conducted by U.S. Presidents.
“I just don’t imagine Reagan sitting down with Gorbachev and yelling and screaming and shaking his fist and saying murderer, thug, and citing Stalin’s human rights abuses,” Paul added. “I think there is a difference for anyone who has thought about this between sitting down and how diplomacy would occur between individuals, and reciting a litany of human rights abuses.”
Paul then slammed proposals expressed by other members of the committee that would undermine Trump’s efforts to improve U.S.-Russia relations.
“There seems to be sort of a limitless appetite for more sanctions but maybe insufficient interest in describing what actions are needed to remove sanctions,” Paul said, referring to legislation by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) called the DETER Act, which permits the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to impose sanctions unilaterally. “Do you think it’s a good idea to take the sanction power, give it to the DNI and then the sanctions have to remain in place for 8 hours with the President not having any ability to decide whether there’s been any change in behavior by the malefactor?”
“Without having seen the legislation, I do not think that’s a good idea,” Pompeo replied, suggesting the administration agrees with Paul’s critique.
Paul then praised Pompeo’s successful denuclearization talks with the regime in North Korea, and lauded Trump’s outreach to both Kim Jong-Un and Vladimir Putin.
“I do commend you for talking to Kim. Are we here to extoll Kim’s record on human rights? Obviously not. But at the same time, for sanctions to have an effect, you have to have negotiation,” Paul said. “So what I would say to my colleagues who have been all over TV saying there should not have been a meeting: think again! We have planes within a mile or a hundred yards of [Russian aircraft] in Syria – we have to have open lines of communication!”
Paul has emerged as the most visible of the Trump administration’s defenders on the Trump-Putin summit, which was panned by many senior Republicans. This led to Trump publicly thanking Paul for his support on Twitter earlier this month.