Donald Trump’s praise for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous anti-drug campaign drew condemnation from leading foreign policy voices in both parties Wednesday, who were shocked the president would encourage what the State Department describes as “extrajudicial killings.”
The Intercept reported Tuesday that Trump told Duterte in a private call that he endorsed the murderous anti-drug campaign, which has killed well over 7,000 people. Duterte has unapologetically compared himself to Hitler and said he would “be happy to slaughter” millions of drug addicts in the Philippines.
According to the transcript of an April phone call obtained and authenticated by The Intercept, Trump had nothing but kind words for Duterte’s policy.
“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” Trump told Duterte. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a rising star on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, condemned what Trump said. “He’s essentially congratulating Duterte on murdering 4,000 [sic] of his own citizens. That’s outrageous,” said Murphy. “The reason you get briefed before these phone calls is so that you don’t say something as dumb as that.”
Following the release of the transcript, 14 Democratic senators also signed onto a letter by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., calling on President Trump to delay his invitation for Duterte to visit the White House until his human rights record improved. The letter’s signatories included Sens. Ben Cardin, Tim Kaine, Jeff Merkley, Sherrod Brown, Cory Booker, Ron Wyden, Dick Durbin, Chris Van Hollen, Amy Klobuchar, Al Franken, and Kirsten Gillibrand.
Bernie Sanders, an independent senator and former Democratic presidential candidate from Vermont, told The Intercept by email that he found the transcript “shocking,” and that it would encourage further abuses.
“This sends a horrible signal to human rights violators all over the world, giving them a green light to increase their abuses,” said Sanders. “Unfortunately, as we’ve seen with his comments about Vladimir Putin and in his recent trip to Saudi Arabia, enthusiastic praise for authoritarian leaders is the norm rather than the exception for this president.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Intercept that he didn’t understand why Trump would praise Duterte’s campaign. “I don’t understand why he would say such a thing to a guy who’s practicing extrajudicial executions.”
Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The Intercept that Trump’s remarks were “outrageous” and “totally against American values.”
“A person who commits extrajudicial killings is not a person we admire,” said Cardin.
Cardin has been a vocal critic of Duterte’s human rights record. In November, the State Department halted a planned sale of more than 20,000 assault rifles to the Philippines national police after Cardin threatened to block it, and earlier this month, he introduced a bill along with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.,that would place restrictions on similar weapons transfers.
Rubio would not discuss the transcript, saying he would not “comment on a transcript produced by a foreign government.”
Earlier in the day Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., another prominent Republican voice in foreign policy, told The Intercept that Duterte “is not a guy we want to empower.”
Murphy and Markey are co-sponsors of Cardin and Rubio’s bill. Graham, a powerful subcommittee chair, said he was considering signing on as well.