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Trump & Merkel Play Nice Face-to-Face Despite Insults; NATO Allies Wonder if Alliance Can Survive Trump; Trump: NATO Allies Need to Spend 4 Percent of GDP on Defense, Not 2 Percent; Senate Rebukes Trump on Tariffs, NATO for 2nd Day in Row; Trump & First Lady Travels to Europe with Trump After Operation in May. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired July 11, 2018 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The president's latest comments, Max, about NATO, we shouldn't be very surprised because, for a long, long time, he has berated NATO, questioned NATO, doesn't like the fact the U.S. spends so much of its GDP on defense. The other NATO allies don't.
I want to play a clip. This is more than two years ago during the campaign, I had this exchange. This is March of 2016. This exchange with the then-Republican candidate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let me ask you about U.S. participation in NATO. Do you think the United States needs to rethink U.S. involvement in NATO?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, because it's costing us too much money. And, frankly, they have to put up more money. They'll have to put some up also. We're paying disproportionately. It's too much. And, frankly, it's a different world than it was when we originally conceived of the idea and everybody got together. But we're taking care of, as an example, the Ukraine. I mean, the countries over there don't seem to be so interested. We're the ones taking the brunt of it. So I think we have to reconsider. Keep NATO, but maybe we have to pay a lot less toward the NATO itself.
BLITZER: When you say keep NATO, NATO has been around since right after World War II in 1949. It's been a cornerstone of U.S. national security around the world. NATO allies hear you say that. They'll not be happy.
TRUMP: They might not be happy but they have to help us also. It has to be -- we are paying disproportionately. And very importantly, if you use Ukraine as an example, and that's a great example, the countries surrounding Ukraine, they don't seem to care as much as we do. There has to be a change in philosophy. And there also has to be a change in the cut up, the money, the spread, because it's too much.
BLITZER: So you're really suggesting the U.S. should decrease its role in NATO?
TRUMP: Not decrease its role but certainly decrease the kind of spending. We're spending a tremendous amount in NATO and other people proportionately less. No good.
BLITZER: What do you say to allies who are watching and they're not happy with what you're saying? What do you say to those allies?
TRUMP: -- make them happy, Wolf. What, they're not happy? We're spending a fortune. We're spending tremendous amounts of money. And you look at countries that circle other countries, they're not as bothered by it as we are. So you have to make them happy. But the kind of money - look, we owe $19 trillion. Going to be $21 trillion very soon with the crazy omnibus budget they just passed, which is ridiculous. We can't afford to do all of this anymore to the same extent. That was a different time. That was a different age.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was more than two years ago. He could be saying the same thing right now.
MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It's so bogus, Wolf. This is so ridiculous. He's complaining we can't spend the money to defend Europe? You know what? He's busting the budget at home. He's doubling the budget deficit annually from what it was under Obama. We're spending all this money to defend Europeans and they're not spending it themselves. It's false. The Europeans spend about $250 billion a year to defend themselves. We have about 60,000 troops in Europe, which I would guess means we spend about $60 billion a year on the defense of Europe, which is really the defense of American interest, because it's in our own interest to stop Russian aggression and the Europeans stand with us. This is actually a great bargain because the Europeans have stood with us for more than 70 years. And this notion that we're spending 70 percent of NATO's defense budget, it's true in terms of collective spending, but most of our defense spending does not go to Europe. It goes to dealing with China, North Korea, Iran, many other threats around the world where the Europeans assist us.
So if you look at this in terms of the substance, what President Trump is saying is ridiculous. It is bogus. It is not factual. But what is true here is that he has tremendous animus against NATO and our allies going back far beyond that interview, back to the 1980s. This is something he really, truly believes in. And that makes him a very dangerous man.
BLITZER: We'll get into all of that.
Everybody, stick around. There's a lot more we need to discuss.
We're also waiting for this traditional photo opportunity at the start of the dinner.
Our special coverage continues right after this.
[13:37:06] BLITZER: Take a look at this. Live pictures from Brussels. The NATO summit under way. This is what they're calling the family photo opportunity, the traditional class photo of all the NATO leaders. They've gathered there, the president of the United States, the leaders of the European nations, as well as Canada. They are all there. They are going through the traditional diplomatic protocol. But behind the scenes, a lot of tension right now over so many of these issues.
I want to bring in Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to assess what's going on.
We're showing, Senator, some of these live pictures coming in, this class photo.
What do you think about the president's news today? He's saying the NATO allies shouldn't just be spending 2 percent of their GDP on defense, they need to spend 4 percent of their GDP on defense. What's your reaction?
SEN. BOB MENENDEZ, (D-NJ), RANKING MEMBER, SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, first of all, the United States doesn't even spend 4 percent of GDP on defense. So I think it's just a part of his parlor game of what he thinks is a way to get NATO to spend more money. What the president mistakenly says is that -- first of all, there's no NATO ally that's in arrears. Everybody is paying what they should be paying at this point. The 2 percent goal is supposed to be accomplished by 2024. Eight countries are already accomplishing it that this year. No one in arrears. And they're all working towards that. And they started spending more before President Trump came along when they saw the invasion of Crimea by Russia.
So the bottom line is, what strikes me, Wolf, as someone who has met with many of the foreign ministers of these countries and others, is that the president gives the back of the hand to some of our closest, longest allies. And embraces some of the most authoritarian figures in the world. When he says that his visit with Putin will be the easiest meeting he has, someone who is a thug and trying to undermine American democracy, that shouldn't be an easy meeting, nor should it be chummy.
BLITZER: Why do you think the Senate, your colleagues, passed a resolution, a nonbinding resolution, yesterday, 97 to 2, on the Senate floor, supporting NATO right now. And just moments ago, the Senate passed another nonbinding resolution, 80 to 11, saying before the president cites national concerns for imposing tariffs against various nations -- and he did so against Canada and Mexico recently -- the Senate felt it was necessary to pass this kind of resolution? Both seemingly rebuking what the president is doing.
MENENDEZ: Well, no doubt it's a rebuke. And it's an effort, particularly as it relates to our NATO allies, to let them know that the president's harangue against them is not the view of the Congress of the United States as a representative of the American people. You know, it is critically important. It's why this Congress, when it passed the Countering Americans Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, didn't provide for waivers in sanctions. It made them mandatory. And only by coming back to Congress can they be undone because they were worried about what President Trump would do vis-a-vis Putin and Russia. So it's a very strong statement. Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee met and passed out, I think, 20-1, a very strong resolution on our support for NATO and it being a pillar.
What's crazy, Wolf, is I just saw a tweet by Secretary Pompeo that says, "NATO is the most successful alliance in history." And he goes on to say, "Weakness provokes strength and cohesion. This remains our bedrock belief."
I just wish the president of the United States could say that.
[13:40:48] BLITZER: He did. At the same time Pompeo was tweeting, the president was tweeting. I'll read the tweet moments ago. I'll get your reaction, Senator. Maybe we'll put it up on the screen if we have it. "What good is NATO," the president writes, "if Germany is paying Russia billions for gas and energy? Why are there only five of 29 countries that have met their commitment? The U.S. is paying for Europe's protection then loses billions on trade. Must pay 2 percent of GDP immediately, not by 2025."
That's what the president just tweeted.
MENENDEZ: Here again, first of all, Germany is one of our strongest allies in our sanctions against Russia. They have been part of leading the unity of the European Union. Wolf, the European Union works by unanimity. It's hard to get every country to agree. Germany has been a stalwart in keeping the sanctions against Russia for annexing Crimea, invading Ukraine, for undermining our democracies through their cyberattacks and trolls. They're one of our strongest allies. The president just simply forgets, in the 73-year history of NATO, they were there after World War II. They helped us win the Cold War. Ultimately, the only time that NATO has invoked that provision that talks about mutual self-defense among its members has been on behalf of the United States when we were tragically hit on September 11th. For 17 years, NATO's allies and their sons and daughters have fought alongside our sons and daughters, many of them losing their lives. The president forgets all of that.
BLITZER: What's your biggest concern, Senator, about the upcoming summit with Vladimir Putin that the president will have in Helsinki? That's going to take place on Monday?
MENENDEZ: My biggest concern is that Putin is KGB. He has a whole dossier, a whole sense of what buttons to push with the president. The president doesn't believe in that type of preparation. When he says that this will be the easiest meeting, when he talks about Russia as someone who is a competitor, Russia is not a competitor. They are an adversary. They are a foe. Anyone who tries to undermine our democracy who, in essence, created a 21st century attack through their cyberattacks against our democracy, is a foe. And so when you go into a meeting and think of someone as a competitor, that's just about how are we going to strike a deal? I'm worried about what he's going to do in Syria. I'm worried about him willing to give up on sanctions against Russia. I am really concerned about how the president will unfold. And I hope he doesn't get to meet alone with Putin because I think that would be enormously dangerous. BLITZER: His aides say they'll start these sessions. The first of
the sessions one on one with only interpreters. Yesterday the president was asked if Putin is a friend or foe. He refused to say friend or foe. He's a competitor of the United States.
Senator Menendez, thanks so much for joining us.
MENENDEZ: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: The class photo, all of the festivities taking place right now. We'll go inside.
Take a quick break first. We'll be right back.
[13:47:22] BLITZER: So there you are seeing more live pictures coming in from the NATO headquarters in Brussels right now. The president and first lady are walking. They'll be going into a formal dinner tonight, there in the next few minutes. And then you're seeing the other world leaders there as well. They're chatting. Very social. Very nice. But behind the scenes, a lot of tension because of the president's comments about NATO specifically, also about Germany as well. Raising all sorts of questions about the commitment to the NATO alliance right now.
Kate Bennett is our White House reporter. She's in Brussels for us right now.
Kate, talk to us about the first lady right now. She's there. She's made this trip. They'll be going from Brussels. They'll be going to the U.K. Then going to Helsinki for the summit with Putin. A lot of travel right now.
KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right. The first lady today had a much more cordial afternoon. She was with the spouses today at a nearby music academy here outside of Brussels. Spent the day at a concert with other spouses, like Bridget Macron and the partner of the Belgian prime minister. We're about to see slowly the president and the first lady make their way down this blue carpet after they're done watching the entertainment and make their way into the dinner at the museum here this evening. The two will then split off. There's a separate spouses dinner tonight the first lady will attend separately from the president, who is having a working leaders dinner. Both are happening at the same place. The first lady has been practicing diplomacy of her own on this trip. She'll continue with the president on to London, Scotland and Helsinki before returning home.
We have yet to hear from her, Wolf. We haven't heard her say a single word in the press pool. No remarks. But she's here in a supporting role. And the people of Europe tend to support her as they did the last time she was abroad last year at the NATO event.
BLITZER: Looks like she's had a complete recovery from the kidney operation, what, several weeks ago here in Washington. Is that right? BENNETT: That's right. She had the operation in May and her doctors
gave her a 30-day no-travel situation, so certainly trips abroad, long plane trips were not possible. This is her first. We traveled with the first lady to the border in Arizona last week and Texas the week before. Those were shorter trips. This is certainly her first major visit abroad since having that procedure done on her kidney. She seems well. She certainly looks well. She's, tonight, back with the president, having spent the day apart at a completely different event on the other side of town from NATO, a wooded setting, listening to classical music, doing a chocolate tasting with other leader spouses. So a different kind of NATO first day for Melania Trump than for President Trump.
[13:50:17] BLITZER: She and her family are originally from Slovenia in Europe, so she feels at home meeting with European leaders.
Let's take another quick break, resume our coverage right after this.
BLITZER: All right. We're watching the NATO leaders getting ready to attend a dinner in Brussels tonight at NATO headquarters just outside Brussels to be precise. They're all walking down the blue carpet towards the dinner. There will be some entertainment. We'll watch it closely.
Josh Rogin, when the president tweets moments ago, "What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russians billions for gas and energy, what good is NATO," and he is raising that issue, what's your reaction to that?
JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it is important to say that some of the issues Trump raises about NATO, some problems are legitimate issues and there are legitimate grievances, and the alliance has legitimate problems that have gone too long without being addressed by both sides. But the problem is not with acknowledging these grievances. The problem is how the president is doing it. As we saw Senator Menendez say, and seen other Republican leaders say, his constant insulting our allies while praising our adversaries is the wrong way to go about it. If he truly wanted to engage in a constructive solution to fix the problems of the NATO alliance, he would be doing it in a different way. What he is doing is making problems worse. The North Stream is a perfect example, because that is a problematic project. But if you want to persuade Germany not to do it, you don't stand up in front of the assembly and insult them. This is not an isolated incident. He has been attacking Merkel for months. There's no excuse for it. It is egregious and inexcusable.
BLITZER: Listen to Senator Bob Corker, Robin, the chairman, Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, addressing the issue of what the president is saying about the NATO allies. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[13:55:03] SEN. BOB CORKER, (R-TN), CHAIRMAN, SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Anything that we do too stabilize NATO helps him. You can express yourself without trying to tear down an alliance that's been important to the security of Americans.
Sometimes the rhetoric, to me, is just damaging to us and damaging to others unnecessarily. But I think there are ways of communicating with your friends. And sometimes it feels like we punch our friends in the nose and hold our hand out to people that are working strongly against us like Russia and Putin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Suggesting that Putin is sitting back, Russians are sitting back and are pretty happy when they see a rift developing between the U.S. and NATO allies.
ROBIN WRIGHT, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Absolutely. What's most striking about today is that it comes just a month after the G-7 summit, which the president did the same thing, basically trying to challenge an alliance that accounts for almost half the economy, economic strength of the world. Pulling the rug out from underneath it, kind of saying, well, they're kind of our allies, but not willing to sign a communique, insulting the host, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau. There's this moment -- we all have to co-exist, whether as families, colleagues, as friends. We need others to survive. The United States is basically taking a position that it doesn't need anybody now, whether economic alliance, military alliance, political alliance. And that it is willing. The president's two most important initiatives have been with North Korea and with Russia, which are in many ways our greatest adversaries. There's no question that everyone in this town hopes for a diplomatic resolution to both adversarial relationships. The problem is you don't do that at the expense of alliances that have ensured our survival.
BLITZER: And we have seen, Max, a pattern. The president, since taking office, walking away from various international organizations, commitments, whether the World Trade Organization, Paris Climate Accords, NAFTA. He says that has to be renegotiated if not done away with. How much trouble is NATO in now?
BOOT: I think NATO is in a lot of trouble, Wolf, because of Trump's animosity against our alliances and trade partners. At the same time, he seems to have nothing but affection for Vladimir Putin and Russia. Let's not forget the elephant in the room. Russia helped to get Donald Trump elected. Is he going to confront Russia about their misbehavior when he sees Putin on Monday about interference in our election, about killing a mother of three in the United Kingdom, about war crimes in Syria and Ukraine? Very doubtful. At the same time, he is confronting our allies with largely imaginary grievances. That's emblematic of his upside-down world view, which is the opposite of every other U.S. president going back to the days of Harry Truman.
BLITZER: Malika (sic), will he confront Putin when he meets with him in Helsinki Monday and raise the issue of Russian interference meddling in the U.S. presidential election?
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: If the past is indicative of what can happen in the next few days, he will raise it privately and come back to the press and say, I asked, and this is what he said and I believe him. We've had that before. I'm going to say this. And this first couple of days overseas is not a victory lap for this president. And also if we're looking at what we're seeing is true, this president is now the albatross around the neck of NATO. He's very good at division and the "us versus them" issue, and he's doing that now. He's had that winning picture, that stand in the family picture, that one person in the middle. Will he continue to be there? Because he is causing that division in NATO.
ROGIN: What the Trump people will say, this is a negotiating tactic, he is raising stakes to be disruptive to get things from allies. How is that working? Where exactly are we winning? What have we gotten? What ends up happening is that over time alliances are eroded. People see the actions of the president and they make other calculations. He is forcing allies to hedge, to look to other actors. When you see Germany or the E.U. or Hungary look to Russia, that's because, in part, they don't see a reliable partner in the United States.
ROGIN: And that gap in American leadership is being filled by our adversaries against our interests. I don't think that's even what President Trump wants. I'm sure it's not what --
WRIGHT: He will survive because all 29 members want it to survive, including the United States. Great danger is when Trump sees Putin, they get out, say something like we don't believe in meddling in other people's elections, we make a blanket statement. That puts the United States on the same page as if we also were guilty of something.
RYAN: What would our standing be in that core 29? What would our standing be after this session of NATO?
ROGIN: Those alliances are not a birth right, they can go away --
BLITZER: Everybody, stick around.
There's a lot more news we're covering. But our special coverage will continue right now with Ana Cabrera.
[14:00:09] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello on this Wednesday. I'm Ana Cabrera, in for Brooke Baldwin.