Speaker Paul Ryan unveiled Thursday the national security portion of a broad election-year agenda for House Republicans, even as Donald Trump is pledging to shake up U.S. diplomacy and reassert American power.
The 23-page House Republican plan doesn’t directly mention Trump’s proposal to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border or repeat his accusation that the NATO alliance is obsolete. But it does talk broadly about securing the border, enforcing immigration laws, taking the fight directly to “Islamic terrorists,” boosting U.S. military strength and getting European nations to boost their defense spending.
There’s also a section on overhauling the nation’s diplomacy and updating the State Department. It includes a mention of the fatal 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and the State Department’s role, although it doesn’t mention presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, secretary of state at the time, by name.
“The security of our diplomatic personnel and facilities overseas is paramount. Unfortunately, those programs have atrophied under the Obama administration. This was clear in Benghazi, Libya, where numerous requests for additional resources were denied by State Department officials in Washington, leading to the tragic death of four Americans, including our ambassador, in a terrorist attack,” the document offers.
Ryan and other House Republican leaders released the plan, titled “Achieving U.S. Security Through Leadership and Liberty,” at a Council on Foreign Relations event in Washington. It’s the second part of their six-part “Confident America” policy project, which leaders say could lead to legislation in 2017.
Some Republicans who put the document together say that they’re not worried about areas where there may be a lack of cohesion with Trump.
“I know this has been vetted with his people,” said Representative Devin Nunes of California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He said he and Ryan staffers have been meeting with Trump campaign aides, “so there are no surprises” with them on the release of the document.
Of the various policy areas, national security may be among the easiest to dovetail with the Trump campaign, Nunes suggested.
Clinton has already been bashing Trump for what she says is a “dangerously incoherent” foreign policy vision. And Democrats made it clear that they will keep linking the Republican Party to the more extreme statements its nominee has made.
“They’re desperately trying to distract the American people,” Pelosi said. “House Republicans have to answer why they want to hand the nuclear codes to a man who explodes at the slightest provocation, who wants to ignite a nuclear arms race in Asia and who wants to undermine our multilateral security with NATO, to name a few.”
What Trump has offered so far — without much detail — is a blend of anti-interventionist thinking and a belief that limited military force can achieve big objectives. He has said that mistakes made by the past two administrations in Iraq, Egypt and Libya gave the Islamic State terrorist group room to grow and that the billionaire would knock the group out fast. Trump, however, has not provided details on how he would accomplish that.
One area where the Republican plan breaks a bit with Trump is over Russian leader Vladimir Putin, whom Trump has called “a strong leader.” The document says, “We must contest Putin’s advances and deter future actions that threaten U.S. interests,” adding that exports of U.S. energy resources should be used to “blunt Russian energy dominance over Europe.”
Also, the Ryan plan says allies in East Asia “are desperate for a greater American role,” with a priority on countering “the threat of a nuclear North Korea.”
But Trump has said that he’d be prepared to withdraw U.S. troops from Japan and South Korea if they don’t significantly increase payments to underwrite the forces. He also has suggested he could accept those countries building their own nuclear arsenals rather than depending on the U.S. nuclear umbrella.
Beyond those, there does not seem to be much in the new House Republican plan that overtly clashes with Trump’s statements, but instead tries to tone down the more controversial edges of the candidate’s pronouncements. Some of the rhetoric strongly echoes Trump’s, particularly in blaming President Barack Obama for a litany of foreign policy mistakes.
“The point is we don’t really have a foreign policy right now. We have a president phoning it in,” Ryan said Thursday morning on WISN radio in Wisconsin. “Our allies don’t trust us.”
The document asserts that the Obama administration’s “failure” to act decisively against the Islamic State group has been deadly. It also says leaders in Washington should level with the American people by calling the threat what it is: “You cannot defeat an enemy you refuse to define, so let’s state it plainly: We are at war with Islamist terrorists.”
It adds, “We must also be prepared to do what it takes to win,” and that “our generals and diplomats should not feel that their hands are tied behind their backs, nor should we deprive our troops of the resources and authorities required to succeed.”
The document states that the U.S. must promote open markets and expand free trade, but doesn’t announce support for or delve into details of specific trade pacts. Trump has criticized various free-trade deals that the U.S. has signed, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The document also refers to NATO, but less critically than has Trump, who has called it an “obsolete” organization that is extremely expensive for the U.S. The House Republican plan does offer that NATO partners “must increase defense spending or risk letting the alliance fall into disrepair, or worse, irrelevance.”
And while the House Republican plan does not mention constructing a wall along the U.S. southern border — in fact, it says “we need more than just fencing” — the document says, “Make no mistake: The borders are not secure and the threats along them are growing more dynamic by the day.”
The first part of the House Republican electioneering package, a plank to battle poverty, was announced Tuesday. Other planks are to be rolled out by Ryan in upcoming weeks.