Congress

Romney maiden speech hammers administration’s foreign policy

Freshman senator also drilled into China’s ‘predation’

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney gave his maiden speech on the Senate floor Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Mitt Romney’s first official speech in the Senate offered thinly veiled criticism of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy agenda, including China and Russia, without naming the president. He urged consistency with allies in Europe in Asia and caution and vigilance toward China and Russia.

The Utah Republican’s speech called for strengthening ties with traditional American allies, on the heels of a joint news conference the president held with outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May in London.

“We need to hold our friends closer, not neglect them or drive them away. These alliances are a key advantage we have over China: America has many friends, China has very few,” Romney said.

Trump has moved to pivot U.S. foreign policy toward bilateral relations with individual countries and away from reliance on broad alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Trump has maligned NATO and complained that other nations don’t pay their fair share, including from London on Tuesday. 

Romney, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned that Russia was on the decline and in desperation would become more antagonistic and dangerous.

“Russia continues its malign effort, of course, violating treaties, invading sovereign nations, pursuing nuclear superiority, interfering in elections, spreading lies and hate, protecting the world’s worst actors from justice, and promoting authoritarianism,” Romney said.

“As it falls further behind, we must expect Russia’s inevitable desperation to lead to further and more aberrant conduct,” he continued.

Trump has maintained praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin and has repeatedly rejected assertions from U.S. intelligence agencies and Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election.

Romney also warned his colleagues about China’s rise and issues, including repression of dissent and censorship of the media and Internet. Romney said that the United States must join together economic and military might with allies and focus on stopping what he called “China’s predation.”

“Eight years ago, I argued that Russia was our number one geopolitical adversary. Today, China is poised to assume that distinction,” the 2012 Republican nominee for president said. At the time, he was mocked for making such an assertion. 

He criticized the administration’s efforts with China, calling them “ad hoc, short term or piecemeal.”

“It is past time for us to construct a comprehensive strategy to meet the challenge of an ambitious and increasingly hostile China,” he said.

Romney said that the American people must be alerted about the threats facing the country and those in power should work to unite the country to respond.

“China intends to overcome us like the cook that kills the frog in a pot of boiling water, smiling and cajoling as it slowly turns up the military and economic heat,” he said.

He called on the president to work to unite Americans instead of dividing them.

“When it comes to cooling the rhetoric and encouraging unity, there’s no more powerful medium than the bully pulpit of the president of the United States,” he said.

Romney also shared his perceptions of the Senate after a few months on the job.

“Given the public passions of our politics these days, I presumed the atmosphere would be between prickly and hostile,” he said. “Senators on both sides of the aisle are remarkably friendly — once the cameras are off.”

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