President Trump has been sucked into the abyss of the Washington “establishment” since his inauguration, prominent Republicans and Democrats charged Sunday morning, and whether that’s a positive development depends entirely on one’s political point of view.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, one of the Republican Party’s most respected voices on national security, flatly declared that he hopes establishment types have influenced the president’s shifts on China, Syria and other foreign policy matters.
Mr. Trump two weeks ago abandoned his noninterventionist campaign rhetoric and ordered military strikes in Syria, and last week said he no longer considers China a “currency manipulator.”
The latter is an attempt by Mr. Trump to enlist China’s help in dealing with North Korea, which over the weekend conducted another missile test that, while failing in spectacular fashion, still represented an aggressive, antagonistic move.
Mr. Trump in recent days also walked back his campaign claim that NATO is an obsolete organization.
On those and a whole host of other global issues, it’s becoming clear that Mr. Trump is conducting his foreign policy in a more traditional manner. Critics say the “establishment” is having an effect on him, but Mr. McCain and others say all Americans should be grateful for that.
Appearing Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mr. McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had a simple answer when asked if Mr. Trump has been sucked in by establishment forces.
“I hope so,” he said. “On national security, I do believe he has assembled a strong team and, very appropriately, he is listening to them.”
Mr. McCain said he hopes the administration delivers a thorough, comprehensive plan to deal with Syria, Iraq and other hot spots in the Middle East because such a strategy does not exist.
Mr. Trump’s move toward a more establishment-style foreign policy comes against the backdrop of a broader fight inside the White House. More moderate figures such as Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, reportedly have clashed with ideological warriors like chief strategist Steve Bannon. Mr. Trump distanced himself from Mr. Bannon last week, dismissing the former Breitbart News chief as “a guy who works for me,” stoking speculation that Mr. Bannon will soon be out of a job and that the president is softening his stances.
Other figures on Mr. Trump’s White House team also could soon be pushed out.
K.T. McFarland, the president’s deputy national security adviser, said Sunday that more changes are coming, seemingly confirming that she will soon trade her job to become U.S. ambassador to Singapore. Ms. McFarland was brought in with retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former head of the National Security Council, who was removed amid controversy over his conversations with Russian officials.
While Mr. McCain and others praised the foreign policy shifts, others see Mr. Trump’s descent into the establishment — or “swamp,” to use the president’s campaign term to describe insider Washington — as a betrayal of what supporters believed he stood for.
By appointing powerful Wall Street figures such as Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin and Economic Council Chairman Gary Cohn, Mr. Trump is selling out his middle-class supporters, according to Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent and a hero to the progressive left.
Mr. Sanders charged that the president is failing on his central campaign vow to shake up the establishment and break the link between Washington and Wall Street.
“People are perceiving that Trump did not tell the truth during his campaign in terms of what he would do as president of the United States,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
But at the same time, Mr. Sanders urged Mr. Trump to continue on his more moderate foreign policy tack, saying the U.S. must work with China and resolve the tense situation with North Korea through diplomatic means.
“We must not act impulsively, and we must not act unilaterally,” Mr. Sanders said.
North Korea’s missile test failed just hours before Vice President Mike Pence landed in Seoul, South Korea.
“He told me in no uncertain terms to make sure I told all of you, ‘We’re proud of you and we’re grateful for your service,’” Mr. Pence said. “This morning’s provocation from the North is just the latest reminder of the risks each one of you face each and every day in the defense of the freedom of the people of South Korea and the defense of America in this part of the world.”
North Korea’s missile exploded Sunday seconds after it was launched from the east coast city of Sinpo during celebrations of the 105th birthday of the late North Korean founder Kim Il-sung, grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un.
U.S. officials stressed that no option is off the table when it comes to dealing with North Korea.
Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly said the administration is preparing for not just military hostilities but also a major North Korean cyberattack.
“In the case of North Korea, you know, a kinetic threat against the United States right now I don’t think is likely, but certainly a cyberthreat,” Mr. Kelly said on “Meet the Press.” “So we would raise various threat levels in the event that something happened, and we felt as though there were a possible threat. You always want to come down on the side of caution.”
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.
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