WASHINGTON – Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, laying out foreign policy themes in her bid for the White House, vowed on Wednesday to rebuild America’s overseas alliances in the face of challenges from Russia and China, saying that four more years of President Donald Trump would “permanently weaken” the nation’s global stature.
“The damage President Trump has done to our standing in the world is serious, and it will last long beyond his presidency,” Klobuchar told an audience at Washington’s Council on Foreign Relations, just blocks from the White House. “But I don’t believe it is irreparable. It will take time and hard work, but I believe we can rise to the challenge and restore the promise of America’s unique role in the world.”
In her first major foreign policy speech since the launch of her presidential campaign last February, Klobuchar mapped out five steps she said she’d take as president to start undoing Trump’s legacy: “Restoring American leadership, repairing our alliances, rejoining international agreements, responding appropriately to global threats and challenges, and reasserting American values.”
Trump, she said, has weakened NATO alliances, praised authoritarian dictators, continued “business as usual” with Saudi Arabia after its crown prince reportedly ordered the murder of a Washington Post columnist, and has been “coddling up to Vladimir Putin.”
The speech gave Democratic primary voters a glimpse of a different side of a candidate who has emphasized unity and bipartisan domestic achievements in the Senate, though she has frequently criticized Trump’s global leadership on the campaign trail.
It comes as Klobuchar, in low single digits in presidential polls for much of the year, has begun to gain traction as the Democratic field shrinks and more big-name candidates drop out. An Emerson College Iowa poll released Tuesday night put Klobuchar in fifth place at 10%, her first double-digit poll showing in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.
A Trump campaign spokeswoman defended the president’s foreign policy decisions without specifically mentioning Klobuchar.
“President Trump has put America first on the world stage,” spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement. “America has never been stronger than under the leadership of President Trump. No 2020 Democrat will be able to counter his undisputed record of success at home and abroad.”
While not a member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, Klobuchar highlighted a number of international trips she’s made as a U.S. senator, including visits to Ukraine, Cuba, Turkey and Jordan. Foreign policy has not been central to the debate among Democratic contenders so far, with more focus on issues that have split the field, such as Medicare for All and proposals for free college.
But Trump’s sometimes-strained relations with leaders in Europe and Canada have given Democrats an opening. Former Vice President Joe Biden released a TV ad last week with footage of a group of foreign leaders appearing to laugh at Trump during the recent NATO summit.
Klobuchar, too, mentioned that moment in her speech. “I would like to hear how walking out of a NATO conference just because world leaders are making a few jokes about him makes America great again,” she said.
As president, Klobuchar said, she’d put the U.S. back into the Paris Agreement, meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale, and renegotiate the U.S. back into the Iran nuclear agreement. She said she’d “rebuild the State Department” and institute a program to draw back career diplomats who have left during the Trump administration.
Saying it’s “time to bring our troops home from Afghanistan,” Klobuchar said she’d do so by the end of her first term. While some counterterrorism and intelligence capabilities would have to remain in place, she said, “an open-ended U.S. troop presence is not the answer.”
While calling for strengthening ties with important foreign allies, Klobuchar said the U.S. must “push back against Russia and China, two of the most significant beneficiaries of the disruption of our global system.” She said Putin illegally seized Crimea, has poisoned political opponents, had armed Ukraine militants who shot down a civilian airliner and is propping up Bashar Assad in Syria.
Klobuchar also called out China as hostile to democracy, guilty of unfair trade practices and overly aggressive in its economic maneuvers. She said Trump’s trade war with China has cost U.S. jobs without achieving any long-term gains for the country.
“We don’t want to prevent China from growing and succeeding, but we do want to prevent it from doing so at the expense of others, including Americans,” Klobuchar said.
As commander in chief, Klobuchar said, she’d be “committed to maintaining our military superiority.” But she derided as “false logic” the idea that higher military spending automatically ensures a better military or a safer nation.
While drawing a sharp contrast with Trump, Klobuchar said she believes the damage done by Trump’s presidency will last beyond his time in office. Democrats can’t afford to lose next year, she said.
“The world is watching us closely,” Klobuchar said. “Allies and adversaries alike are wondering, has America definitively turned away from its commitment to values that truly made us great and enabled us to build a global network of alliances unmatched in history? Or is the current administration an aberration, a hiccup on the path to greater prosperity and a secure future?”