Republican White House hopeful Donald Trump called Saturday for military aid from the United States to Israel, Ukraine, and elsewhere to be structured as a loan, with Washington able to demand repayment in case of insufficient support.
Trump also said he would “encourage” Russia to attack members of NATO that had not met their financial obligations, his most extreme broadside against the military alliance he has long expressed skepticism about.
“They want to give $100 billion to a few countries,” the former president and GOP frontrunner told a rally in South Carolina, referencing a bill in Congress for funding military aid for Israel and Ukraine as well as stiffer border restrictions.
“Give them the money, and if they can pay it back, they pay it back. If they can’t pay it back they don’t have to pay it back … but if they go to another nation, they drop us like a dog,” he said. “If that happens to our country, then very simply we call [in] the loan and we say we want our money, because we give money and then they go to the other side.”
Trump did not mention Israel, but rather seemed concerned that Ukraine could be given money “and then make a deal with Russia.”
He did mention Israel after promising to “stop that war [in Ukraine], stop other wars from happening.”
Trump’s remarks came after Senate Republicans on Wednesday rejected a bipartisan bill that would have included sorely needed new funding for Ukraine, plus aid for ally Israel, along with reforms to address the US-Mexico border crisis.
“We crushed crooked [US President] Joe Biden’s disastrous open borders bill,” Trump declared. “The whole group did a great job in Congress. We crushed it.”
Now, the US Senate is plodding past far-right Republican opposition to helping Ukraine fight Russia, working through the weekend on a $95.3 billion military aid package that includes funding for Israel’s fight against Hamas terrorists and for key strategic ally Taiwan. The lion’s share, however, would help Ukraine restock depleted ammunition supplies, weapons, and other crucial needs as it enters a third year of war.
Trump then described a conversation with a fellow head of state at an unspecified NATO meeting.
“One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, ‘Well, sir, if we don’t pay, and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?’ I said, ‘You didn’t pay, you’re delinquent?’
“No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You got to pay. You got to pay your bills.”
NATO allies agreed in 2014, after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, to halt the spending cuts they had made after the Cold War and move toward spending 2% of their GDPs on defense by 2024. The former president has repeatedly said it was unfair to commit the United States to defend NATO’s 30 other member nations.
The White House hit back at Trump’s assertions, touting Biden’s efforts to bolster alliances around the globe.
“Encouraging invasions of our closest allies by murderous regimes is appalling and unhinged,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement Saturday night.
“Rather than calling for wars and promoting deranged chaos, President Biden will continue to bolster American leadership,” Bates added.
The Senate bill’s death highlighted Trump’s iron grip on the Republican Party, as its lawmakers acceded to the former president’s calls to torpedo any deal in order to deny Biden a win on immigration ahead of November’s election.
At the rally Saturday, Trump — whose first presidential campaign featured a central plank of building a “big, beautiful wall” on the US-Mexico border — celebrated the collapse of the legislation, vowing that, if reelected, he would carry out a massive “deportation operation” on his first day in office.
“On day one I will terminate every open border policy of the Biden administration and we will begin the largest domestic deportation operation in American history. We have no choice.”
The Senate is now considering a foreign aid package that decouples the aid from the border issue entirely.
At the South Carolina rally, Trump needled Nikki Haley, his former UN ambassador who is also seeking the Republican Party’s nomination, though her bid is almost certainly doomed as she badly trails her ex-boss in the race.
Addressing voters in Haley’s home state, Trump questioned the whereabouts of her husband, Michael, who has not been seen on the campaign trail as he is on a year-long military deployment to the Horn of Africa country of Djibouti.
“Where’s her husband? Oh, he’s away. He’s away. What happened to her husband? What happened to her husband,” he said, raising his voice for dramatic effect.
Haley clapped back on social media platform X, formerly Twitter.
Michael is deployed serving our country, something you know nothing about. Someone who continually disrespects the sacrifices of military families has no business being commander in chief. https://t.co/AfN3u4AsJc
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) February 10, 2024
“Michael is deployed serving our country, something you know nothing about. Someone who continually disrespects the sacrifices of military families has no business being commander in chief,” she said.
And Michael Haley had his own message for Trump, tagging the candidate in a post on X that featured a close-up photo of a wolf overlaid with the text: “The difference between humans and animals? Animals would never let the dumbest ones lead the pack.”