Risch: North Korea needs to know what’s on Trump’s mind
JUDY WOODRUFF: And just moments ago, President Trump addressed cameras again. He said he plans — he said there is a military option to solve the current crisis in Venezuela.
Mr. Trump also indicated that, by September 1, the U.S. will have a response to Russia for expelling diplomats, American diplomats.
And on North Korea, he said he plans to call the president of China tonight to discuss it. Standing with the members of his national security team, the president responded when asked if his team is all on the same page regarding his strategy and rhetoric about North Korea.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Totally. I can tell you totally on the same page.
And, Secretary, maybe you would like to make a statement?
REX TILLERSON, U.S. Secretary of State: Well, I think it takes a combined message there if we're going to get effective movement out of the regime in North Korea.
I think the president has made it clear he prefers a diplomatic solution. I think he responded to that, in effect, just a moment ago. So, I think what the president is doing is trying to support our efforts by ensuring North Korea understands what the stakes are.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And that was the president and the secretary of state just moments ago.
Now we turn to a lawmaker's perspective.
Last night, we heard from Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland.
Tonight, we get a Republican take from Senator James Risch of Idaho. He is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees, and he joins us now from Boise.
Senator, welcome back to the program.
You just heard the president, and I believe you also heard our guests just before that, who both said that the president's heated rhetoric over North Korea is making this situation more unpredictable and potentially more dangerous.
How do you feel about that? Do you agree with that?
SEN. JAMES RISCH, R-Idaho: Well, no, I don't agree with that.
I know the media wants to make all this about Donald Trump, as they do everything these days, but the fact of the matter is, this is all about North Korea. Donald Trump is going to do nothing but react to whatever North Korea does.
The fate of this whole scenario is not in the hands of Donald Trump. It's in the hands of the North Koreans.
As far as the — his statements in that regard, I know a lot of people don't like the way he talks, don't like his adjectives, don't like his attitude or anything else, but the only thing more dangerous than what the situation is for him to say nothing about what's on his mind.
He's very good at conveying exactly what's on his mind. And in this situation, dealing with North Korea, it is extremely important that those people understand how strongly he feels about this, what is on his mind and his commitment to defending America.
I have spoken with the president about this. No one should underestimate his commitment to defending this country.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you don't think the president's rhetoric increases the chances of a misunderstanding, a miscalculation?
SEN. JAMES RISCH: I don't think it — I think it does just the opposite.
Whatever North Korea does now, they know and they have heard directly from the president what he's thinking and what he's going to do to respond. It's extremely important, because they're the ones that are taking the action, not us. Everything here is in reaction to what the North Koreans do.
So, I can't underscore enough how important it is that the North Koreans know exactly what's on Donald Trump's mind and what he's thinking and what he's going to do. Look, this is a president that's pulled the trigger twice the first six months that he's been in office. He's not a ditherer. We have had ditherers before, if that's a word. He is not.
He's action-oriented, and he's committed to respond, and I have every belief that he will respond.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And is it your expectation, then, that there is a likelihood of some sort of military action?
SEN. JAMES RISCH: I wouldn't say likelihood.
I don't share the same optimism that your prior two guests had about, oh, this is all going to be all right. I agree with them that this is nothing new. This has been going on for a long time.
But one thing is different, very different, and that is Kim Jong-un is entirely different than his father and his grandfather. Both of them had good relations with China. They got along. They liked each other. China had good control over them. They have no control over this gentleman.
And you heard today China, in a remarkable reversal, said that they'd do nothing to respond or to protect North Korea if indeed North Korea took kinetic action first. That is absolutely stunning to hear them say that, when they have — for decades, they have taken a different position, although not surprising after last Saturday, when they voted with us for the first time and the Russians voted with us for the first time condemning what North Korea is doing.
That was probably one of the most under-reported stories I have seen this year.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Just very quickly, Senator, are you saying that you see there's a — if there were a conflict, a military conflict between the U.S. and North Korea, that could take place without a huge loss of life on the part of American allies, if not Americans themselves?
SEN. JAMES RISCH: No.
I'm very concerned about that, as is everyone. Look, we have got 30,000 troops in South Korea. There's 22 million, 23 million people living in Seoul, which is reachable by artillery fire from the DMZ.
This — there would be loss, there's no question, on our part. On the other hand, if there were — if that happened, North Korea would cease to exist within moments after the conflict started.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quick final question. The president has been very critical of the Senate majority leader this week for failing to pass health care reform.
Do you think the president is right to criticize and to hold — and to blame Senator McConnell?
SEN. JAMES RISCH: Look, both of those — I know both of the gentlemen very well.
I have been a leader. I led our state Senate for 20 years. Leadership is a very, very difficult task. When you succeed, everything is wonderful. When you're struggling a bit, things aren't quite as good.
So, Mitch is, in my judgment, doing the best he can under very, very difficult circumstances. And I think his position is very safe where he is.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator James Risch of Idaho, we thank you.
SEN. JAMES RISCH: Judy, good to be with you.