Former President Donald Trump said Saturday he would encourage Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” if it attacked a NATO country that didn’t pay enough for defense, referencing a conversation from his presidency.
Speaking to supporters in South Carolina, Trump recounted an exchange with the president of a “big country” who asked whether they would be protected if Russia attacked. Trump said he told the leader that the U.S. government would not protect the bloc if they didn’t pay their fair share in defense spending.
“No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You got to pay. You got to pay your bills,” Trump said.
Trump made the remark during a rally on the campus of Costal Carolina University. It comes as Russia continues its war in Ukraine, and after some North Atlantic Treaty Organization members have expressed concerns that Russia might look to expand into other nations.
The alliance was formed in 1949 to provide collective defense against the Soviet Union. A hallmark of the agreement is that an attack on one ally is an attack on all.
Trump has long groused about NATO and sparred with heads of member states, reportedly threatening to pull the United States out of the bloc over demands that member nations hit the target of spending 2% of their gross domestic product on defense.
A report released last year showed only 11 of the then-30 member nations were spending 2% of their GDP or more on defense. Finland was granted NATO membership status last year, having applied following concerns over bordering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Since coming into office, President Joe Biden has sought to reassure NATO of the U.S. commitment to the group, a stark contrast to his Republican predecessor.
Last month, Biden signed an $886 billion defense bill that bars a president from unilaterally withdrawing from NATO, which could thwart Trump’s 2024 campaign pledge to “fundamentally” reevaluate “NATO’s purpose and NATO’s mission.”
Asked about Trump’s most recent comments about NATO, White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said, “Encouraging invasions of our closest allies by murderous regimes is appalling and unhinged — and it endangers American national security, global stability and our economy at home,” Reuters reported.
Besides the NATO comment, Trump on Saturday also boasted about the recent failure to pass a bipartisan border deal.
“We crushed crooked Joe Biden’s disastrous border deal. Mike Johnson did a very good job,” Trump said, referencing the Republican House leader and his opposition to the bill.
The failure to pass the border bill came after reports that Trump wanted his party to reject the legislation in hopes that he could use the crisis at the southern border as a political tool to win reelection in November.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com