White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Sunday said President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un “agree in their assessment” of former Vice President Joe Biden, after Trump prompted an outcry by leveraging his friendship with the North Korean dictator against Biden in a tweet.
Trump, who is visiting Japan, had said in the tweet that he appreciated a recent comment by North Korean state media calling Biden a “low IQ idiot” whose candidacy should not carry high expectations.
Trump wrote that he “also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Bidan a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?” Trump later corrected the misspelling of Biden’s name.
Biden is leading early polls for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and has become the prime focus of attacks by Trump and other Republicans.
In an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sanders was asked by host Chuck Todd whether Americans should “be concerned that the president of United States is essentially siding with a murderous authoritarian dictator over a former vice president in the United States.”
Sanders disputed Todd’s characterization of the situation.
“Chuck, the president’s not siding with that,” she said. “But I think they agree in their assessment of former Vice President Joe Biden.”
Pressed whether Trump is taking Kim’s word about Biden, Sanders responded that the president “doesn’t need somebody else to give him an assessment of Joe Biden. He’s given his own assessment a number of times.”
Biden’s campaign pointed to a statement it made last week in response to the remarks by North Korea’s state-run news agency. In the statement, Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said Trump has “been repeatedly tricked into making major concessions to the murderous regime in Pyongyang while getting nothing in return.”
“Given Vice President Biden’s record of standing up for American values and interests, it’s no surprise that North Korea would prefer that Donald Trump remain in the White House,” he said.
Sanders was also asked about a tweet in which Trump appeared to contradict national security adviser John Bolton. Trump had said in the tweet that while some in his administration were “disturbed” by North Korea’s testing of ballistic missiles earlier this month, the president himself was unbothered.
“Some of the activity that’s taken place, as you can see from the president’s Twitter, isn’t something that’s bothering the president,” Sanders said Sunday. “He still feels good about the relationship that he has and about Chairman Kim’s commitment that he made to the president.”
Members of both parties sharply criticized Trump’s handling of North Korea on Sunday.
Addressing the president in a tweet, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois. said, “It’s Memorial Day Weekend and you’re taking a shot at Biden while praising a dictator.”
“This is just plain wrong,” said Kinzinger, a military veteran who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Another Republican, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, said she “certainly wouldn’t trust” Kim. Ernst, who is a veteran and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, described herself as disturbed by both North Korea’s recent missile test as well as Trump’s reaction.
“I think Japan does have reason to be concerned, and I am concerned as well. We need to see North Korea back off of those activities, and we need to take a very strong stance on that,” Ernst said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
She added that she understand Trump “has a job to do in negotiating, but we do need to push back on North Korea and make sure that they are following U.N. guidelines.”
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is running for the Democratic presidential nod, said that when Trump met with Kim last year in Singapore and this year in Hanoi, “he was essentially handling North Korea something they needed, which was legitimacy.”
“And the way diplomacy works, the way deals work is you give someone something in return for something,” Buttigieg said on ABC’s “This Week.” “It hasn’t worked at all.”
Others argued that Trump is acting strategically with regard to North Korea.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, a close Trump ally, said that he was “glad the president is engaging” Kim and that the president was “trying to give North Korea some space to come back to the table and end this.”
“Like every other president, he’s trying hard to stop the advance of nuclear armament in North Korea,” Graham said on “Fox News Sunday.” He added: “I’ll give Trump the space he needs to deal with Kim, but I’ll remind the president, you have to deliver on this. This is one of the signature issues of your administration.”
Washington Post writers Paige Winfield Cunningham and Simon Denyer contributed to this report.