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Kucinich: 'When You're President ... You Never Have to Make a Threat'

Dennis Kucinich appears on "Good Morning Britain" in London on April 5, 2017. (Rex Features via AP Images)

WASHINGTON – Addressing the Trump administration’s handling of North Korea, two-time presidential hopeful Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) said U.S. presidents “never” have to make threats on the world stage.

Kucinich was asked if he thinks President Trump’s direct approach to the situation in North Korea is working, specifically the critical tweets he’s posted about Kim Jong-un.

“We need to engage North Korea and I think the American people are largely unaware that we’ve been doing military exercises on their border for quite some time – live-fire exercises, not simply patrols back and forth. I think there is time to de-escalate. There’s a way to de-escalate that I don’t believe is productive in diplomacy – to try to settle differences with leaders attacking each other through the media, it’s not good,” Kucinich told PJM during an exclusive interview on Capitol Hill.

“The American people have a right to expect that all of our leaders – we put them in there, specifically, so they can work these things out,” he added. “We don’t want to be bothered, really; I mean, it’s the truth. People want to live their lives. They don’t want to have to worry about wars and things like that, and not new wars.”

Kucinich, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 and 2008, said the U.S. should continue its attempt to “work out” disagreements with North Korea behind the scenes.

“So you know President Trump has a distinctive, very individualistic style, which can be productive when it’s focused. When you’re president of the United States, you never have to make a threat – never. I’m not saying it to be critical. In general, a president doesn’t have to make threats; we’re the most powerful nation in the world. When you have real power, you don’t make threats, everybody knows,” he said.

“So we need to stay engaged to work out our disagreements with North Korea behind the scenes and not let elements within the government try to agitate and taunt and make it more difficult for the president to make the right decisions, but that does happen. There are people in the State Department, the Pentagon and Central Intelligence who will do what they think is best, but they also will put the president in a difficult situation and he really is the one who needs to make the decisions,” he added.

Kucinich, a Fox News contributor, said it’s not in anyone’s interest to escalate the tensions with North Korea.

“What I’ve seen so far indicates that General Kelly and the people who are working at the Joint Chiefs, they seem to have a grip on deliberate measures and not escalating – escalation is in no one’s interest here. It’s not in the interest of our allies throughout the South and throughout the East, North and South. It’s not in the interest of the 200,000 Americans who are in South Korea. It’s not in the interest of the tens of thousands of Americans who are on ships in the area patrolling,” he said. “It’s not the interest of Japan.”

“The world requires that that we focus on what I would call the science of human relations,” the former congressman noted. “All of us, each one of us in our own lives have had to deal with difficult people – it’s life. Every one of your readers in their own personal lives, you think of what it’s like. You have to deal with difficult people.”

Kucinich emphasized that “reaching from a gun” should be the absolute last resort in foreign policy.

“Now, those who have a low tolerance for frustration, those who are impatient sometimes take shortcuts in dealing with difficult people that they live to regret. The same is true in the lives of nations: when we deal with difficult people, we have to call upon our highest skills as human beings. We all share a common experience. We don’t agree on the way we look at the world and we cannot ever yield to bullies, but even bullies have certain points of entry in their experience where you find out what it is they really care about and that is what you deal with,” he said.

“America has so much potential to be able to resolve difficulties and the very last thing you want to do is reach for a gun, because when you when you do that everything changes right away,” he added. “You know, where do you go from there? I mean, that’s like the last resort because where do you go from there; if you do that, you have nowhere else to go, you’re stuck.”

Kucinich also shared his opinion of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s job performance.

“He has provided for the Trump administration – he’s been a stabilizing force and he should be credited with that,” he said.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo has been floated as a possible replacement for Tillerson. President Trump tweeted that Tillerson is not leaving, contrary to the rumors that have been circulating. Kucinich described Pompeo as a “pretty straight-up guy” and an “honorable man” who is “very skilled.”

“But if you have somebody who has skills as secretary of State, and another person who has skills as CIA director, if you’ve got a team and they are playing their positions and they’re doing well, why change the lineup? I don’t understand that, but then again I’m not privy to all the ins and outs here,” he said.

Kucinich cautioned that the Trump administration and the Republican-led Congress would not be able to balance the budget by cutting taxes and increasing defense spending.

“I don’t know if the president’s advisers are giving him accurate information, which he needs to make the best decisions on a wide range of matters, including tax reform. Because the president, as we all know, has been very vocal about making sure that middle-class people and others would benefit, and yet the way the law is structured they’re not. So that leads me to believe that those who are shaping the policy are not giving the president the information he needs so that it corresponds with what he said he wanted to do,” he said.

“You have at look the federal government in terms of what you’re spending and what your income is. Because of these wars, we’re building a massive deficit and we’ve increased the military budget to $700 billion,” he continued. “Any time the government under any administration starts talking about cutting taxes and increasing military spending and funding more wars it’s absolutely impossible to be talking about balancing the budget. It’s oxymoronic – you cannot do that.”

Kucinich, who was an outspoken critic of the Iraq war during the Bush administration, said war spending is not helping the U.S. government’s financial picture.

“So I think everyone wants the economy to move, OK, but I don’t think that as long as we’re spending money abroad on wars it’s really productive both for our economy and for the long-term interests of the United States,” he said. “So we’ve got to start to reconsider our position around the world. Our first obligation is to the American people, first and foremost.”

Conservative members of Congress were critical of the increased federal spending that took place during President Obama’s two terms but Congress has not reduced the overall federal budget since Trump took office. Kucinich said elected officials should examine the budget “as Americans, not as Democrats and Republicans.”

“And as Americans we have to make sure that federal spending encourages the growth of the economy, number one. Number two, that to the extent that you can reduce taxes that the reductions are equitable, that everyone benefits. And number three, we have to find new ways of growing our economy; we absolutely have to do that,” Kucinich said.

“We’re locked into a discussion we’ve been having for 40 years and we need a whole new premise at which we operate our country,” the Ohio rep added. “It’s just not enough to be going over the same debates over and over and over, and so that’s all there is. We’ve got to step outside the box and start thinking anew as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans.”