Another Republican, Sen. Joni Ernst (Iowa), said she “certainly wouldn’t trust” Kim. Ernst, who is also a veteran and serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said she was disturbed by North Korea’s recent missile test as well as by Trump’s reaction.
“I think Japan does have reason to be concerned, and I am concerned as well,” she said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We need to see North Korea back off of those activities, and we need to take a very strong stance on that.”
The issue arose after Trump, who is on a state visit to Japan, tweeted that North Korea’s recent missile tests were not of concern, contradicting a recent statement by national security adviser John Bolton.
“North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me,” the president tweeted. “I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Biden a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?”
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said that when Trump met with Kim last year in Singapore and this year in Hanoi, “he was handing North Korea something that country needed, which was legitimacy.”
“And the way diplomacy works — the way deals work — is you give someone something in return for something,” Buttigieg said on ABC’s “This Week.” “It hasn’t worked at all.”
On CNN, Ernst said that she understands Trump “has a job to do in negotiating, but we do need to push back on North Korea and make sure that they are following U.N. guidelines.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defended the president’s comments Sunday. In an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sanders was asked by host Chuck Todd whether Americans should “be concerned that the president of United States is essentially siding with a murderous, authoritarian dictator over a former vice president in the United States.”
Sanders disputed that characterization. “Chuck, the president’s not siding with that,” she said. “But I think they agree in their assessment of former vice president Joe Biden.”
Pressed on whether Trump is taking Kim’s word about Biden, Sanders said the president “doesn’t need somebody else to give him an assessment of Joe Biden. He’s given his own assessment a number of times.”
As for North Korea’s missile tests, Sanders said, “Some of the activity that’s taken place, as you can see from the president’s Twitter, isn’t something that’s bothering the president. He still feels good about the relationship that he has and about Chairman Kim’s commitment that he made to the president.”
Biden is leading early polls for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and has become a prime focus of attacks by Trump and other Republicans.
Biden’s campaign Sunday pointed to a statement it made last week in response to remarks by North Korea’s state-run news agency that Biden has a low IQ, which itself was a response to Biden’s criticism of the regime.
In that statement, Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said Trump has “been repeatedly tricked in to making major concessions to the murderous regime in Pyongyang while getting nothing in return.”
“Given Vice President Biden’s record of standing up for American values and interests, it’s no surprise that North Korea would prefer that Donald Trump remain in the White House,” Bates said.
Others argued that Trump is acting strategically in his dealings with the authoritarian regime.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a close Trump ally, said that he was “glad the president is engaging” Kim and that the president was “trying to give North Korea some space to come back to the table and end this.”
“Like every other president, he’s trying hard to stop the advance of nuclear armament in North Korea,” Graham said on “Fox News Sunday.” He added: “I’ll give Trump the space he needs to deal with Kim. But I’ll remind the president: You have to deliver on this. This is one of the signature issues of your administration.”
Paige Winfield Cunningham and Simon Denyer contributed to this report.