Romney subtly criticizes Trump in first Senate floor speech

Sen. Mitt Romney.
(Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Subtly criticizing President Trump, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called on policymakers Tuesday, in his first speech on the Senate floor, to develop a “comprehensive strategy” to respond to China’s rapid rise.

Romney, who argued that China is poised to become America’s “No. 1 geopolitical adversary,” urged American leaders to fortify the U.S. against future Chinese expansion and to take steps to slow China’s rising power.

“To date, our national response has been ad hoc, short term, or piecemeal,” he said. “It is past time for us to construct a comprehensive strategy to meet the challenge of an ambitious and increasingly hostile China.”

Romney included several veiled critiques of Trump’s policies as he outlined the steps he thinks the country should take to respond to China’s economic growth.

Romney has long had a complicated relationship with Trump. Since Trump captured the Republican nomination in 2016, Romney, the 2012 nominee, has been one of the highest-profile Trump critics in the party.


The two declared a temporary truce as Trump endorsed Romney for his 2018 senatorial bid. Earlier this year, though, the detente between them ended when Romney said he was disappointed in Trump after the release of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report, prompting the president to lash out at the senator on Twitter.

On Tuesday, Romney continued his criticisms of Trump, although without directly naming him.

In describing what he thinks the U.S. must do to compete with China, Romney said the country should continue to welcome immigrants, noting that “the world’s best and brightest” have made significant contributions to the American economy.

Trump has faced criticism for his efforts to restrict both legal and illegal immigration, especially the administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the border — formally in place from April to June 2018 — and for his proposal to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border.

Likewise, the senator urged political leaders to cultivate stronger relationships with American allies, touting the importance of “a strong NATO” and “a strong Europe.”

Trump, by contrast, supports what he has termed an “America First” foreign policy; he considered pulling the United States out of NATO earlier this year, and he has repeatedly made disparaging comments about American alliances.

Romney’s speech also featured thinly veiled criticism of the president’s rhetoric.

“When it comes to cooling the rhetoric and encouraging unity, there is no more powerful medium than the bully pulpit of the president of the United States,” he said.

Romney’s criticisms of Trump have for the most part remained consistent for years, but his warnings about the growing dangers posed by China mark an about-face. In one of his debates with President Obama in the 2012 campaign, Romney argued that Russia, not China, was the United States’ main rival.

That has changed, he said on Tuesday, because Russia is on “a declining path,” while China is on “a rising path” and could pose a threat to liberty around the world if left unchecked.

“Flouting global rules and conventions, China has corrupted the free market,” he said. “China views companies in countries that play by the rules as the proverbial fish in the barrel.”

He also criticized China for having artificially lowered the value of its currency in the past and for subsidizing companies in an effort that aims to drive domestic competitors out of business and to outmaneuver foreign rivals.

“Too often we just ignore China’s aggression, genuflecting before the throne of free markets,” he said. “But you don’t have a free market if the biggest player is allowed to cheat.”

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