The Trump administration’s often conflicting statements regarding foreign affairs have provided the Senate an opportunity to reassert its clout in directing U.S. foreign policy, Sen. Chris Coons suggests.
In a public sit-down conversation with former Sec. of State Madeleine Albright on U.S. global leadership this week, the Delaware Democrat said that “one unexpected outcome of the Trump administration may be to make the Senate great again” by forcing the chamber to draft bipartisan legislation to fill the gaps the Trump administration leaves.
Rifts have arisen between the president and the Republican foreign policy establishment in Congress on Russian interference in U.S. democratic processes, the conflict in Syria, and the United States’ traditional commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that for decades has acted as a military deterrent to Russian aggression in Europe and elsewhere.
Republican Sen. John McCain led a bipartisan group of lawmakers — Coons among them — on a trip through Asia and the South Pacific in May to assuage the fears of allies and partners in the region after the White House deviated from traditional U.S. foreign policy there.
McCain criticized the president’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade deal aimed at opening lowering tariffs across the board, enforcing stronger labor laws, and undermining excluded China, in a speech in Sydney on May 30.
McCain advised that Australia move to enact TPP without the U.S.’s involvement, hoping that “someday in the future, under different circumstances, America will decide to join you.”
It is significant that McCain’s views differ from a Republican in the oval office.
Coons said that only a few senators have “a comparable profile” to State and Defense officials who generally set the tone for U.S. policy in their designated regions — and that McCain is one of them.
“Being with Senator McCain in Southeast Asia was an interesting experience,” he said. “His record, his role has residence beyond a typical Senator,” Coons said.
Setting their own agenda
The split between the White House and Republicans on the Hill also plays out in disagreements on nitty-gritty legislative decisions with heavy consequences, such as how Congress plans to deal with Trump’s budget proposal.
Coons indicated that the Senate is likely to reject sections of the White House’s budget proposal that calls for deep cuts to longstanding aid programs and U.S. diplomatic office payrolls across the world, expenses the administration has called unnecessary or outdated.
“While I recognize that no agency should go without tough budget review,” Coons said, “thirty percent in the case of the aid-side loss, 40 percent, that’s not trimming, that’s not correcting — that’s slashing.”
He said there is bipartisan agreement in the foreign relations appropriations subcommittee that Trump’s budget proposal “isn’t what we’re going to be doing.”
Democrats and Republicans have not yet reached a deal.
But the committee plans to mark up last year’s budget and “will be moving forward with many of the investments that we have historically made,” Coons said.