February 21, 2024

Senator Marco Rubio came to Donald Trump’s defense on Sunday, claiming he had “zero concern” about Trump’s recent threat against nations he deems are failing NATO’s guidelines.

“That’s not what happened, and that’s not how I view that statement,” Rubio told CNN’s State of the Union, when asked what he thought about Trump’s recent admission that he had told a president “of a big country” that he wouldn’t defend NATO allies from Russian invasion if they “don’t pay.”

“No, I would not protect you,” Trump said, recalling the conversation, once again, to a crowd in Conway, North Carolina, on Saturday. “In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You got to pay. You got to pay your bills.”

“Donald Trump is not a member of the Council on Foreign Relations,” Rubio clarified. “He doesn’t talk like a traditional politician, and we’ve already been through this. You would think people would’ve figured it out by now.”

It’s an odd bump from Rubio, who, despite endorsing Trump in January, has recently worked to pass a bipartisan bill that he sponsored alongside Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, specifically designed to prevent presidents from withdrawing from NATO without congressional approval.

“He was talking about a story that … happened in the past,” Rubio said, brushing off the remark. “By the way, Donald Trump was president, and he didn’t pull us out of NATO. In fact, American troops were stationed throughout Europe as they are today.”

“What he’s basically saying is … NATO was broke or busted until he took over because people weren’t paying their dues, and then he told a story of how he used leverage to make people step up to the plate and become more active in NATO,” Rubio continued. “Virtually every American president at some point in some way has complained about other countries in NATO not doing enough. Trump’s just the first one to express it in these terms.”

But America’s Western allies did not feel similarly.

“Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the U.S., and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in a statement. “I expect that regardless of who wins the presidential election, the U.S. will remain a strong and committed NATO ally.”

Trump has long aggressed America’s relationship with the international military alliance, baselessly asserting that other NATO members have failed to pay their dues, even though the country has never been shortchanged by other members. The Cold War organization has “no ledger that maintains accounts of what countries pay and owe,” according to former Obama staffer Aaron O’Connell, who told NPR in 2018 that “NATO is not like a club with annual membership fees.”