House Republicans on Thursday sought to drive the conversation about national security, but as they unveiled their plan for defending the United States against terrorists, they found themselves peppered with questions about Donald Trump.
The presumptive GOP nominee has been heavily criticized for his national security related comments , criticizing U.S. allies and offering to reach out to foreign leaders like Vladamir Putin with whom the United States has had frosty relations.
As House Republicans released their national security plank of their "A Better Way" agenda at Council on Foreign Relations Thursday, they were asked whether Trump is fit to be the nation's next commander in chief.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes defended Trump's comments about Putin, noting every president has begun their administration saying they were willing to meet and work with Putin.
"So this is really not a change," he said. But Nunes added, "Without force, Putin is not going to come to the table."
Trump's comments that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is obsolete were overblown, Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., suggested. He said the United States has provided a majority of the resources and its NATO partners need to contribute their fair share.
"I don’t see anything wrong with asking them to step up and do what they’re supposed to do," he said.
Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, declined to defend Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country, saying , "You can't ban an entire race or religion from coming into the country."
McCaul acknowledged the potential damage proposals like that can have.
"We have to be careful in our rhetoric." he said, "because that can inflame the Muslim community and can in fact help their recruiting efforts."
But McCaul and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., expressed confidence that Trump, if elected, would surround himself with good advis e rs on national security. "Reagan, it wasn’t his strength, but he made it his strength because he surrounded himself by good people, good advisers," McCaul said.
Goodlatte said he’s encouraged by Trump’s interest in picking a vice president who understands the legislative process and who can help him develop and maintain good relations with Congress. He also cited Trump's list of potential Supreme Court nominees as a positive.
While he said he's hopeful Trump will show more signs that he will consider others' advice as he develops his agenda, Goodlatte also acknowledged that the billionaire businessman will continue to speak his mind.
"It’s no doubt that we have a very outspoken candidate and I’m sure we’ll have a lot more to hear from him," he said.
Trump's outspokenness explains why he's driving the GOP agenda, not House Republicans, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement, calling the national security agenda empty given Republicans embracing Trump as their standard bearer.
"House Republicans want to hand control of our national security to a person who explodes at the slightest provocation," the California Democrat said. "They want to give the nuclear codes to a man who engages in textbook racism. Republicans are choosing a dangerously reckless path for our nation."
House Republicans' national security platform offers policy ideas that Trump could support, like securing the borders, defeating the Islamic State terrorist group and building a 21st century military.
The 25-page policy paper offers few new ideas or substantive proposals but rather, it provides a general outline of the Republican approach to national security.
It is the second release in the House GOP's six-part "A Better Way" agenda. The poverty plan was released on Tuesday. Papers on taxes, healthcare, regulations and the constitution will be released in the coming weeks.
In outlining the GOP's strategy for defeating such terrorist groups as the Islamic State, the plan calls for taking the fight to enemy territory so the United States doesn't become the battleground. It also urges countering the extremist propaganda that terrorist groups use to recruit people to their movement.
"We have a new generation of terrorists that are effective on the internet," McCaul said. "We have to counter that message."
Republicans argue that President Obama's defense strategy has been to lead from behind. Their strategy would attack threats before they metastasize and ensure allies contribute to the effort.
"It's not too much to say our enemies no longer fear us and too many of our allies no longer trust us, and I think this is a direct result of the president's foreign policy," Speaker Paul D. Ryan said.
"Do we think our allies have to do more? Of course we do. Absolutely," added Ryan, R-Wis. "But they will not do more to defend our shared interests if they think America will leave them in the lurch. America has to set the standard."
Another area in which Republicans would differ from Obama is they wouldn't take defense strategies off the table, said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.
"I’m not for putting into law a bunch of things we’re not going to do," he said. "I’m for leaving [our enemies] guessing."
The plan recommends increased investments in the military and law enforcement to modernize operations and tools used to combat terrorism, as well as providing additional resources for veterans.
It also calls for a new approach to diplomacy "to account for rapid changes in the international system and to properly adjust to the social media age."
When it comes to securing the border, Republicans are suggesting an increased deployment of personnel, fencing and technology, in addition to better enforcement of immigration laws.
The GOP has also proposed to overhaul its legal immigration system by enhancing screening processes for people seeking visas to enter the country and finding a way to monitor them to ensure they don't overstay their visas.