Capitol Alert

GOP senator defends Trump but says NATO’s not a ‘business transaction’

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., waves as he speaks during the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Monday, July 18, 2016.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., waves as he speaks during the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Monday, July 18, 2016. AP

One day after Donald Trump said he would not necessarily defend NATO allies from attack if they fall short of fulling their financial obligations to the bloc, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said Thursday that “our alliances are not business transactions” but that the Republican presidential nominee’s broader concerns about NATO are within the mainstream.

Cotton, a rising star in the Republican Party and a member of the Senate’s Intelligence and Armed Services committees, told reporters at the California Republican Party’s hotel that he did not know “exactly where the controversy is right now,” saying he heard that a Trump adviser said the candidate had been misquoted by The New York Times in an interview published Thursday.

The newspaper released a transcript supporting its reporting in which Trump, asked if members of NATO could count on the United States for military aid, said, “Have they fulfilled their obligations to us? If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.”

Cotton’s remarks followed an address to California delegates on the final day of the Republican National Convention.

“I would simply say that it is important that NATO countries begin to increase their spending,” Cotton said. “Donald Trump … very much agrees with most Republicans and Democrats who follow these matters.”

Asked if military support is a business transaction that should be tied to a nation’s ability or willingness to pay, Cotton said: “Our alliances are not business transactions. We have these alliances not because we’re charitable but because they’re in our interests.”

He said North America has increasingly shouldered the burden of the cost, however, and that “European countries realize that they’ve cut their defense spending too much and (that) they need to increase it.”

Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign blasted Trump, with adviser Jake Sullivan saying in a prepared statement that “Ronald Reagan would be ashamed.”

“For decades, the United States has given an ironclad guarantee to our NATO allies: We will come to their defense if they are attacked, just as they came to our defense after 9/11,” he said. “Donald Trump was asked if he would honor that guarantee. He said ... maybe, maybe not.”

U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, downplayed the controversy while signing books at the California party’s hotel.

“NATO is an alliance based on common defense, and we all have to meet our responsibility,” he said. “And I think that is, you know, some people are looking at it as controversial. The fact is that without those expenditures, then NATO isn’t what it is.”

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders. Christopher Cadelago of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.

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