The Democratic-controlled House approved a bill Tuesday that would reiterate strong congressional support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance amid recent reports that President Donald Trump raised the idea of withdrawing from NATO several times last year.
“It’s so disturbing – troubling to see the United States sending mixed signals about our commitment to the alliance, or treating it as a burden,” said House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, at a news conference on Capitol Hill.
“You know what a burden would be?” he asked. “A burden would be for the United States to try and conduct foreign policy without allies, without 28 other countries that share our values and have fought alongside American troops, sharing the burden of lost blood and treasure at times.”
Trump has been clear in his criticism of NATO and has knocked allies for failing to pay enough for their defense. Meanwhile, Russia has long attempted to divide the alliance, and a US exit would be seen as a major victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The bill, which passed with bipartisan support by 357-22, states that it’s US policy to remain a member of NATO and prohibits funds from being used to withdraw from the alliance.
Last year, the Republican-led Senate approved a motion of support for NATO the same day that Trump arrived in Brussels, Belgium, for a NATO summit. And a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill that would require Senate approval for the US to withdraw from NATO.
Backers of the House bill argue it would continue to put pressure on NATO allies to increase their defense budgets as they have pledged to do.
Democratic Rep. Jimmy Panetta of California said leaving NATO would be a “historic mistake.”
“Because what we have to realize that is NATO is not just a transactional relationship,” he said. “Our sole focus can’t just be on who pays what and who gets what. Being a member of NATO is not like being a member of a country club.”
Rep. Tom Malinowski, a former assistant secretary at the State Department, said the bill prohibits funds from being used to pay for a US departure or to cover expenses like moving troops in what he described as “an enormous undertaking” after a decades-long footprint in the alliance.
“You bet you it would cost a lot of money, and we have the power of the purse,” the New Jersey Democrat said.
“It is, in a sense, crazy that we have to be doing this, but we have to be doing this,” Malinowski added. “It is both necessary and urgent.”
“What we are saying here is that we are not leaving NATO without a struggle from the United States Congress,” he said.
This story has been updated.