Congress looks to horn in on Trump’s North Korea deal
Top senators in both parties signaled on Monday that Congress will not simply sit back and watch as President Donald Trump prepares for next week’s landmark summit with North Korea.
Democrats drew their own lines early, rolling out a set of tough demands for any prospective nuclear pact. But Republicans also indicated that they would want to vet any deal with Pyongyang — if the talks get that far.
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What both sides of the aisle can agree on is that lawmakers should — and will — weigh in as the president edges closer toward a historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“I think it’s important for Congress to be engaged, at least,” South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the GOP’s third-ranked leader, told reporters. “It’s a pretty important national security issue, and obviously the stakes are pretty high in terms of this discussion, so hopefully they’ll be reporting back to us on a regular basis.”
Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) are slated to conduct their own bipartisan North Korea oversight on Tuesday at a Foreign Relations Committee subpanel hearing featuring Victor Cha, once a front-runner to serve as Trump’s ambassador to South Korea.
Republicans continue to offer support to the president, but many remain leery of assuming that a workable agreement is achievable before the June 12 summit takes place. Meanwhile, Democrats are eager to hold Trump to rigorous standards weeks after he pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal and rattled U.S. allies.
The disparate tones of the two parties illustrate the political risks for Trump’s party as well as his opponents, even as it remains unclear exactly how much say Congress will have on the matter.
With the White House portraying next week’s Trump-Kim meeting as only the first step in a process, Republicans are reluctant to delve too deeply into whether they would pursue congressional disapproval power over any agreement, in the vein of 2015 legislation that gave lawmakers authority to review President Barack Obama’s Iran deal.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) declared it “way ahead” to be asking how any North Korea pact would be vetted by Congress.
“First of all, I hope they get a deal,” he told reporters. “I don’t think that’ll happen in the first meeting, but it would be a pleasant surprise if it occurred.”
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters that lawmakers would “have to deal with it, I assume, on the sanctions front, if nothing else. But right now, we’re cheering on the administration and hoping for a successful outcome.”
Democrats had no such reluctance to set guidelines for any potential denuclearization deal with North Korea.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer joined six fellow Democrats in a letter to Trump that outlined what they see as five necessary ingredients: “the dismantlement and removal” of all chemical and biological as well as nuclear weapons from North Korea; an irreversible end to testing and research as part of that nation’s nuclear program; restrictions on ballistic missile work; verifiable inspections; and permanent status for all terms.
Since the White House began discussing Trump’s potential meeting with Kim, Democrats have offered broad support for diplomacy — while reminding the president that the bar will be high for congressional buy-in for any agreement.