McCain Slams 'Dramatic Departure' from Reagan's Commitment to Democracy and Human Rights

President Reagan acknowledges the crowd after his speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin on June 12, 1987. (AP Photo/Ira Schwartz)

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the Trump presidency so far has been “a dramatic departure” from the days when President Reagan championed human rights around the world and praised those fighting despotic regimes.

Speaking to MSNBC this morning after President Trump invited Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to the White House in a “very friendly” call and told Bloomberg News he’d be “honored” to meet Kim Jong-un, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman said he didn’t “understand” Trump’s receptiveness to the North Korean dictator.

“I don’t think that the president appreciates the fact that when he says things like that it helps the credibility and the prestige of this really outrageous strongman,” McCain said. “You know, the largest gulag left on earth is in North Korea. And we all know about their human rights abuses and others.”

The senator said he’s been thinking “about this and also the comments about the president of the Philippines.” The White House said late Saturday night that Trump and Duterte “discussed the fact that the Philippine government is fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs”; Duterte is accused of ordering, encouraging or committing thousands of extrajudicial killings in his country, and said last fall he would “be happy to slaughter” millions of drug addicts in a comparison of Hitler slaughtering millions of Jews.

“One thing that Reagan did was he praised people who stood up against dictatorships,” McCain recalled. “Remember when he mentioned Natan Sharansky’s incarceration and how it encouraged those who were standing up against the Soviet Union. And how it ricocheted around the gulag. And take down this wall.”

“This is a dramatic departure from the kind of approach to foreign policy and human rights that I admired Ronald Reagan so much for,” he added. “And I think one of the reasons why he was one of the most successful presidents in history.”

Asked how GOPs are reacting privately on Capitol Hill, McCain replied that “it’s very disturbing… because we are proud Republicans and we stand for human rights.”

“The reason why the United States of America was called ‘the shining city on the hill,’ the reason, one of the major reasons why we won the Cold War, we stood in stark contrast to the then Soviet Union. And so one of the pillars of America and the reason why so many people around the world want to be like us is because we do stand for these things,” he continued.

“And, no, I don’t want to fight every war and put down every brushfire. But I do believe that we have to stand for those fundamental principles so that we can assume a leadership role in the world. Otherwise, we’re just like everybody else. And I don’t want to be like everybody else.”

McCain added that “when the president does his job such as the cruise missile strike, such as selecting a national security team that is the strongest I have seen, such as many of the actual action he has taken, I have been strongly supportive, and I will continue.”

“…But the statements and the comments obviously fly in the face of everything that I’ve stood for and believed in all of my life.”

The senator argued “democracy is in greater assault and pressure now when you look at the flow of refugees, when you look at all the strains, the rise of ultranationalist leaders in various countries in Europe, like Hungary and others.”

“We need the message of freedom, message of human rights, the message that we stand for democracy more than ever before,” McCain stressed.