WASHINGTON (AP) — In defiance of President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday invited NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to address a joint meeting of Congress to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the trans-Atlantic alliance.
Pelosi, in rare agreement with Republicans, extended the warmly-worded invitation to speak April 3 as one of several events in the U.S. capital celebrating the treaty's signing in 1949. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been unswerving in his support of NATO despite Trump's repeated complaints that its 29 member nations don't pay their fair share for their own defense.
"It is my honor as Speaker, on behalf of the bipartisan leadership of the House of Representatives and the Senate, to extend to you an invitation to address a Joint Meeting of the two houses of Congress," Pelosi wrote in a letter released by her office. "During this critical time for the United States, NATO and the European Union, the U.S. Congress and the American people look forward to your message of friendship and partnership, as we work together to strengthen our critical alliance and advance a future of peace around the world."
In tone and substance, the invitation is stiff pushback to the NATO criticism Trump campaigned on in 2016. He has threatened to pull the U.S. out of the partnership that was established to defend Europe against aggression — for example, from Russia.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
McConnell in particular among Republicans has been outspoken about his support for NATO, issuing a memorable rebuke of Trump's behavior at Russian President Vladimir Putin's side in Helsinki last summer.
"We value the NATO treaty," McConnell declared. "We believe the European Union counties are our friends, and the Russians are not."
Each of NATO's countries spends money on its own military capabilities in an effort to lessen dependence on the U.S. for defense against threats. Stoltenberg said some NATO allies will spend an additional $100 billion by the end of 2020.
The United States is the biggest and most influential NATO member, contributing about 22 percent of the alliance's budget.
Trump campaigned on the idea that the U.S. is paying too much to defend European countries and vowed to make them pay their fair share. In his State of the Union address in January and in Hanoi last week, Trump misleadingly suggested that the U.S. has "picked up" $100 billion from NATO since he's been president.
"A hundred billion dollars more has come in," he said in Hanoi.
In reality, Stoltenberg said on Feb. 15 that NATO allies in Europe and Canada had spent an additional $41 billion on their own defense since 2016, and that by the end of 2020 that figure would rise to $100 billion. So, the $100 billion refers to additional military spending over a four-year period, not over the past two years.
In 2014, during the Obama administration, NATO members agreed to move "toward" spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on their own defense by 2024. Trump's pressure may have spurred some countries to increase their spending faster than they planned or to become more serious about moving to the 2 percent goal.
Member-state contributions were a central point of friction at a NATO summit in Brussels last year. However, in a January interview with Fox News, Stoltenberg said NATO countries heard Trump "loud and clear" and were "stepping up."
Some analysts have warned diminished U.S. leadership in NATO has already weakened the alliance. Former Ambassador Nicholas Burns said in a recent report that NATO is facing its "most difficult" crisis in seven decades and "the single greatest threat (to NATO) is the absence of strong, principled American presidential leadership for the first time in its history."
Stoltenberg has said Trump will meet with his counterparts from the military alliance at a summit in London in December.
Stoltenberg said Wednesday that the leaders will "address the security challenges we face now and in the future, and to ensure that NATO continues to adapt in order to keep its population of almost 1 billion people safe."