WASHINGTON â€”Â President Trump’s sudden foray into North Korean diplomacy has put his political opponents in a difficult spot: Do they rootÂ for success or failure?
In the hours after the announcement that Trump would meet directly with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un this spring, reactions fromÂ Democrats were cautiously optimistic but tempered with skepticism. “Risk” was the word repeated most often.
“Sitting at the table is the easy part,” Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island said. “Solving this problem is hard.”
The consensus among the loyal opposition was that Kim emerged the victor in this initial skirmish simply by earning equal standing with the leader of the free world.
“The worst-case outcome for U.S. is also the most likely â€”Â a great, legitimizing photo op for Kim, and no material commitment on disarmament,” tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut.
For those who like diplomacy but have a sinking feeling about an unplanned, ad hoc Trump/Kim summit, here’s why: the worst case outcome for U.S. is also the most likely – a great, legitimizing photo op for Kim, and no material commitment on disarmament.
â€” Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) March 9, 2018
Democrats also used the opportunity to bring up what Sen. Tammy Duckworth of IllinoisÂ called the president’s past “reckless bluster” on North Korea. Trump previously threatened “fire and fury” for “little Rocket Man” and boasted of having a larger nuclear button.
“Accepting an invitation carries tremendous risk,” Duckworth said.
And the specter of presidential talks also promptedÂ Democrats to urge staffing upgrades at the White House and State Department.
“Alarmingly, the United States enters into this arrangement with a serious dearth of regional experts and experienced negotiators: a hollowed out State Department, no U.S. envoy for North Korea negotiations, and no ambassador to South Korea,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said.
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Democrats’ decision to voice concerns but notÂ outright criticism reflects Americans’ worries about North Korea. In aÂ Gallup Poll taken last month, 82% said the North’s development of nuclear weapons posedÂ a critical threat to the United States.
Democratic leaders mostly steered clear of North Korea developments. The Democratic National Committee and the party’s Senate and House political committees withheld comment Friday. The party’s weekly radio address, to be delivered by Rep. Bill Pascrell ofÂ New Jersey, criticizedÂ Republicans’Â recently passed tax legislation as “cannibalizing America to feed their corporate cronies.”
Another New Jersey Democrat, Sen. Robert Menendez, did offerÂ congratulations toÂ the president â€”Â of South Korea.Â
â€œI welcome any opportunity to forge a diplomatic pathway and prevent a possible military misadventure with North Korea and commend President Moon (Jae-in) for his efforts,” Menendez said. “But I have deep concerns about President Trumpâ€™s ability to engage in the clear-eyed diplomacy necessary to achieve a verifiably denuclearized North Korea.”
Some Democrats withheld their fire â€”Â among them Rep. Adam Schiff of California, ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and a frequent target of Trump’s. HeÂ said Americans should hope that “a true breakthrough is possible.”
“It will require the president to rely on the expertise within the State Department, the intelligence communityÂ and throughout the government, and not simply on his own estimation of his skills as a â€˜deal maker,â€™” Schiff said.
Others were less gracious. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas balanced the chance of a breakthrough with “a breakdown that takes us even closer to war.”
“The prospect of the ever-vacillating, uninformed, impulsiveÂ and easily flattered Donald Trump negotiating anything important,” Doggett said, “is a little scary.”