WASHINGTON — “Errrrrgggggahhhh,” said Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, when asked his opinion of President Trump’s harsh words for the United States’ NATO allies on Wednesday. “I haven’t had time to sift through all that.”
“All that” would be Mr. Trump’s widely reported fusillade against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization over breakfast in Brussels with Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance’s secretary general.
“Frankly, many countries owe us a tremendous amount of money for many years back, where they’re delinquent, as far as I’m concerned, because the United States has had to pay for them,” Mr. Trump said, mischaracterizing how the commitments for NATO military spending work.
Then, as members of the delegation stared into their orange juice, Mr. Trump told them that Germany was a “captive” of Russia because it receives 9 percent of its natural gas from the country — though Mr. Trump erroneously said it was 70 percent.
Back in Washington, Mr. Roberts, making an escape into a Senate elevator, said he was focused on agriculture.
But was it helpful, what the president said about the alliance?
“It is what it is,” Mr. Roberts said as the elevator doors closed.
NATO was founded after World War II to guarantee the security of its 29 member nations, based on the principle that an attack on one was an attack on all. On Wednesday, as Mr. Trump attacked one member and attacked them all, Republicans on Capitol Hill for the most part declared themselves neutral.
Or, at least, they tried to uphold the alliance as they remained silent on the president’s bashing of it.
“NATO is indispensable. It’s as important today as it ever has been,” Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, said at a news conference. About Mr. Trump’s remarks, he said, “We should not be criticizing our president while he’s overseas.”
“The NATO alliance is a family of nations — it’s a critically important family,” said Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina. “We also ought to be talking about all the important things that they’re doing across the globe and thank them for that. Thank them for the number of soldiers, NATO soldiers — I think it’s 1,044 — who have died alongside Americans with the conflict in the Middle East.”
About Mr. Trump, he said, “The president’s got a very different style, which has produced, I think, some positive results.”
Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, said, “NATO is a very valuable asset to America. Other countries would do just about anything to be part of an alliance like that.”
Asked whether calling NATO allies “delinquent” was helpful, Mr. Kennedy said, “If you want them to pay more money, it is.”
Mr. Trump was pressing the other NATO countries to deliver on a pledge to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic products on military spending, which most do not. That message, which has been conveyed by previous presidents, was mostly lost as Mr. Trump displayed a seeming misunderstanding about how the alliance is funded.
The president also proposed raising the agreed upon military spending to 4 percent of gross domestic product, as he publicly slammed an alliance that the United States created to protect Western democracies against anti-democratic actors, like Russia.
Democrats were outraged. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, tweeted that Mr. Trump’s remarks were “another profoundly disturbing signal that the president is more loyal to President Putin than to our NATO allies,” referring to Vladimir V. Putin, the leader of Russia.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry also weighed in. “I’ve never seen a President say anything as strange or counterproductive,” he said in a statement posted on Twitter. “It was NATO that stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States after 9/11, among many other contributions.”
Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, paused in the Senate corridor to deliver his argument courtroom-style. “It is perfectly appropriate and beneficial to urge our allies to contribute their fair share toward our common defense,” he said. “Europe should be meeting their commitments and honoring their promises.”
What about the tone in which Mr. Trump articulated those principles? “I’ll leave the political punditry to others,” Mr. Cruz said, as he walked away.
Several legislators said they had not heard what all the fuss was about.
“He has a style and he’s following that style,” said Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican of Georgia. “But I didn’t hear what he said, so I don’t want to comment.”
Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, begged off: “Lot of things to do.”
Senator Mike Rounds, Republican of South Dakota, when asked whether Mr. Trump exhibited bad form, as the Democrats had said, replied, “I think the president has a form all his own.”
The House passed a resolution on Wednesday affirming the United States’ commitment to its NATO allies while expressing support for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, pledging that the United States “will continue to maintain strong leadership and strengthen its commitments to NATO.” The Senate approved a similar motion on Tuesday night.
Representative Eliot L. Engel, Democrat of New York and the ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, pointed out on the House floor that the NATO support resolution had been ready for passage for days.
“Members should have had the opportunity to debate this in the House — before the NATO summit meeting began this morning — and sent a clear message that this body stands with NATO,” he said. “Instead, we’re rushing it through today, after the summit is halfway over and after President Trump has again insulted our closest friends on the global stage.”
As has become typical, Republicans who are not running for re-election were the most critical of the president’s remarks.
“The NATO alliance is something that’s incredibly important to us and to our citizens, to stability in Europe,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which approved a separate resolution on Wednesday expressing support for NATO. “Rhetoric that’s intended to harm it is not something that to me we need to be doing.”
Having just returned from Finland, Denmark, Latvia and Sweden, Mr. Corker said, “I tell you, when you sit in these meetings, it’s discouraging to know the way we’re being viewed and the lack of reliability that people are feeling about us right now.”
So is it Mr. Trump’s messaging that shakes up our allies?
“Absolutely,” Mr. Corker said. “We as a nation have created these structures that have served us and the world well, and certainly the West and democracy, and those who believe in capitalism, those who want to counter corrupt activities. And when we create a destabilizing sense about what’s happening, and then we go —” he said, leaving the thought unfinished.
“Hopefully,” he said, “there won’t be conciliatory comments towards Russia, let me put it that way.”