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The results of President Trump’s historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un face deep skepticism from lawmakers in both parties – but the skepticism may ultimately run deepest among a crop of Democrats preparing for possible 2020 presidential campaigns.
Mr. Trump returned from the historic Singapore summit Wednesday morning and was greeted by lingering queries from both sides of the aisle. Traveling in China, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also clashed with reporters who pressed him for details on how the United States will verify that North Korea is relinquishing its nuclear arsenal.
On the sidelines of a different kind of summit in Washington — a gathering of liberal organizations — Democratic senators seeking to curry favor with party activists expressed reservations about the nuclear agreement.
There is “no evidence North Korea has given up anything,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. She added that North Korea has a long history of broken promises and is known to “make promises to make more promises.”
“It’s unfortunately a lot of sizzle, but no steak,” added Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey. “And more than that, I worry that he’s given up a lot now.”
Booker said he was concerned aboutinterview that aired Tuesday night, where the president praised the dictator as a “strong guy” and a “great negotiator.”
“Maybe he was a great negotiator because he got us to commit to stop exercises,” Booker noted with a tinge of irony.
The limited information shared with lawmakers is troubling, Booker added. “I haven’t seen anything yet but a press release,” Booker said.
He called the new reality of American diplomatic affairs “stunning” and “troubling.” Shaking his head, Booker added, “I wouldn’t believe it if someone wrote a fiction novel about this. We have a president that seems to want a better relationship with the leader of North Korea than the Canadian Prime Minister.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, another member of the Armed Services panel, said she’s eager for more details on Mr. Trump’s vow to end military exercises with South Korea.
“This is the very issue that we probably should have had hearings on, had discussions about, fully understood what it would mean to give this up in exchange for denuclearization of North Korea,” she said.
A lack of foreign policy experience or military service is often a detriment for candidates challenging a sitting president, which is why several savvy Democrats plotting White House campaigns have spent years eagerly seeking seats on military and foreign policy committees. The positions give them an opportunity to travel the world to meet with foreign leaders, drop into war zones, tour military bases, and to grill top administration officials in televised hearings. Plus, the perch makes them a go-to guest on television news programs – especially when global conflicts arise.
Gillibrand joined the Armed Services panel in 2011 – taking a spot once occupied by her Senate predecessor, Hillary Clinton. Warren joined the committee last year – a move clearly designed to bolster the former law professor’s thin foreign policy and military portfolio and a committee workload that focused on aging, banking, energy and health issues.
Booker joined the Foreign Relations Committee in 2017 and earned a slot on the Judiciary Committee earlier this year – alongside Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, another presidential aspirant. Harris started her Senate career last year with a seat on the Intelligence Committee – a usually secretive body that has emerged as one of the more consequential groups on Capitol Hill given its investigations into Russian meddling in U.S. elections.
Booker, Harris, Gillibrand and Warren all headlined the “We the People” summit on Wednesday, alongside Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, who are also known to be preparing for potential 2020 presidential bids.
On stage, the Democrats focused almost exclusively on domestic policy, emphasizing their support for labor unions, higher minimum wage rates, and Mr. Trump’s divisive rhetoric aimed at minorities.
The first-of-its-kind gathering put the senators in front of leaders and rank-and-file members from Communication Workers of America, Demos Action, Indivisible, MoveOn, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and Working Families Party, among other groups. After remarks from each lawmaker, audience members asked often long-winded questions to put the speaker on the record as embracing liberal positions on issues ranging from immigration reform to Wall Street regulations.
Off-stage, despite their concerns with what Mr. Trump might have guaranteed Kim, the senators agreed that the meeting was a welcome alternative to military action or brash tweets.
“This is better than what I was seeing before, which was two world leaders behaving as they were bullies on the playground, talking about the size of their buttons and things like that,” Booker said.
Gillibrand agreed, saying, “I will support his efforts because diplomacy is the right solution, not military action. And I’m going to support his efforts as long as he’s not trying to do that.”
As for next steps, Warren asserted that the ball was in the president’s court. “We’ll keep pushing the President, but he’s the lead negotiator.”