Trump-Kim summit: 9 Republican senators on whether it’s appropriate for Trump to praise Kim

Senate Republicans are struggling to find a way to defend President Donald Trump’s acclaim for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

Trump told ABC News “you see the fervor” in North Koreans’ “love” for their leader, whom he called “very talented” after their historic summit in Singapore.

They were shocking comments for those following the human rights situation in North Korea. The country ranks 167th out of 167 in the Economist’s Democracy Index, and 180th out of 180 in the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom. A 2017 International Bar Association report cited evidence of ”systematic murder (including infanticide), torture, persecution of Christians, rape, forced abortions, starvation and overwork leading to countless deaths,” and other crimes against humanity. The United Nations said the conditions in North Korea are unparalleled in the world.

Some Senate Republicans cited Kim as a “despot tyrant,” but others were reluctant to weigh in on the president’s apparent esteem for the North Korean leader.

“Look, I think we all know the president uses a lot of hyperbole,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), once a fierce Trump critic, told Vox.

Trump acknowledged the humanitarian crisis by calling it a “rough situation over there” but equivocated conditions in North Korea with those in other parts of the world. “It’s rough in a lot of places, by the way, not just there,” he told the press Tuesday.

Vox asked nine Republican senators whether it was appropriate for Trump to say that the people of North Korea love their leader and support him with “fervor.” Here are the transcripts of those exchanges, lightly edited for length and style.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO): “I think what we have is a summit where Kim Jong Un agreed to denuclearization”

Tara Golshan

Was it appropriate for the president to say that the people of North Korea love their leader?

Cory Gardner

Look, I think what we have is a summit where Kim Jong Un agreed to denuclearization. Hopefully, that advances peace. Clearly, there is more work to be done. Obviously, we need more information on the details of the summit —

Tara Golshan

But was it appropriate for the president to say that the people of North Korea love their leader?

Cory Gardner

I hope what we focus on is the fact that we are moving toward denuclearization, which will address many of the egregious actions that the heinous regime has carried out.

Tara Golshan

So do you think it was appropriate for the president to say?

Cory Gardner

[Walks into closed-door meeting]

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA): “The president is entitled to say what he wants to say. This is America.”

Tara Golshan

Did you find it appropriate for the president to say that the people of North Korea love Kim Jong Un?

John Kennedy

I don’t have a comment on that. I wasn’t there. I don’t know the context. The president is entitled to say what he wants to say. This is America.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN): “We all know the president uses a lot of hyperbole”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker used to be a fierce critic of Trump’s.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Tara Golshan

Was it appropriate for the president to say that the people of North Korea love their leader?

Bob Corker

Look, I think we all know the president uses a lot of hyperbole.

Tara Golshan

Doesn’t that erase a lot of humanitarian concerns?

Bob Corker

I don’t know. I don’t know. I just — that’s the nature. And we need to deal with the concrete things that have occurred, and hopefully we find out what those are.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK): “He did a great job over there”

Tara Golshan

Did you find it appropriate for the president to say that the people of North Korea love their leader?

Jim Inhofe

Now, I think he did a great job over there, and I’m glad it happened.

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS): “Um. Well, everything I know about Kim Jong Un is that he is a despot tyrant.”

Tara Golshan

On North Korea, was it appropriate for the president to say that the people of North Korea love their leader?

Jerry Moran

Um. Well, everything I know about Kim Jong Un is that he is a despot tyrant and he is harmful to the people of North Korea.

Tara Golshan

So when the president comes out of the summit and says this, does that give an indication about his concerns about the human rights abuses?

Jerry Moran

That’s not my understanding of what leader Kim Jong Un is.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK): “Did he say that?”

Senate Armed Services Committee Holds Hearing On Situation In Afghanistan
Sen. Dan Sullivan hadn’t heard about Trump’s comments.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Tara Golshan

I wanted to ask, was it appropriate for the president to say that the people of North Korea love their leader and support him with fervor?

Dan Sullivan

Did he say that?

Tara Golshan

He did.

Dan Sullivan

I wouldn’t have said that, but … [trails off]

Tara Golshan

Does that erase any of the humanitarian concerns?

Dan Sullivan

I think they raised humanitarian concerns, and we’ll continue to raise them too.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ): “I mean, he’s a brutal dictator. Let’s call it what it is.”

Tara Golshan

What did you make of the president’s comments after the summit when he said the people of North Korea love their leader and that they support him with fervor?

Jeff Flake

[Laughs] That’s not a statement I would have made. Statements like that — that he’s a very talented leader — I mean, he’s a brutal dictator. Let’s call it what it is.

Tara Golshan

Is there concern that the United States won’t address the humanitarian concerns in the country?

Jeff Flake

There is concern — and I can understand separating that right now from the other, but that still doesn’t excuse using effusive language to refer to someone who is a very brutal dictator. And this wasn’t a one-off. This is happening again and again and again. Heaping praise on people like [Philippine President Rodrigo] Duterte or [Russian President Vladimir] Putin for their strong leadership when it’s really just brutal leadership.

Sen. David Perdue (R-GA): “I haven’t talked to the president yet”

Tara Golshan

Did you find it appropriate for the president to say that the people of North Korea love their leader and support him with fervor?

David Perdue

Well, I haven’t talked to the president yet since he’s going to get back tonight. So I’m not going to comment on anything that reporting said.

Tara Golshan

Okay, he said that to the press.

David Perdue

Yeah. Thank you.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC): “No comment”

Tara Golshan

Was it appropriate for the president to say that the people of North Korea love their leader?

Tim Scott

I’ve got no comment on it.

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