While members of the Northwest congressional delegation have bipartisan agreement that North Korea poses a serious threat, they disagree on whether the president’s rhetoric is appropriate.
The United States is facing the most serious danger of war in years, Sen. Jim Risch said. But that danger is not coming from Donald Trump promising “fire and fury” for any future threat, but from what North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is doing, the Idaho Republican said.
“It isn’t about Donald Trump, this is about Kim Jong Un,” said Risch, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees. “It’s very important that the president convey to North Korea and Kim Jong Un what is on his mind.”
The stakes for a military confrontation are high, he said. The U.S. has 30,000 troops in South Korea and more nearby in Japan. But stakes are even higher for North Korea, because in any full-scale conflict it would “cease to exist as a country,” he said.
“You start to wonder about this guy. He keeps pushing the envelope,” Risch said in a phone interview while traveling in Idaho. “Saddam Hussein did exactly the same thing.”
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said the threats from North Korea need an international response, like the recent decision of the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions, not inflammatory rhetoric.
“I think what we need is a de-escalation of the situation,” Cantwell said in a phone interview during a swing through the state. That could come through talks involving the U.S., North Korea and the nations that surround that country, she said.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., was asked about North Korea during a stop at the Veterans Affairs offices in Vancouver, and described Kim as “incredibly dangerous” and not to be trusted.
“We must do everything in our power to prevent an attack,” she said. “Key to that effort is our international partnerships, and it is critical for the Trump administration to navigate this wisely, because the safety and security of our country is at stake.”
Asked later if she thought Trump’s comment about responding to future threats with “fire and fury” was navigating the situation wisely, a spokeswoman for Murray replied: “She doesn’t think his rhetoric is helpful.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said the nation must show strength and decisive leadership in the face of North Korea’s growing nuclear threat.
“I think the president is sending a strong message,” McMorris Rodgers said, but added it was important he include Congress in any future actions. “We need to hear from the military leaders and the commander-in-chief.”
Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts and the sanctions recently imposed by Congress and the United Nations should continue, she said. Whether more sanctions are needed will be a primary focus of Congress, she added.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said that panel will continue to evaluate whether further sanctions are necessary.
Risch called the U.N. sanctions, approved by a unanimous vote of the Security Council that included Russia and China, a significant but under-reported event. It doesn’t necessarily back Kim into a corner, he added.
“All he’s got to do is step back, and it’s over,” Risch said.