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The Obama administration is ramping up its response to a possible Donald Trump presidency, devoting a growing amount of time fielding questions, not only from the press, but from foreign leaders, asking about the impact Trump’s proposed plans.
Twice in the last week President Obama has made forceful statements decrying the GOP front-runner’s positions. Obama says the world is watching and foreign leaders are asking him about Trump’s statements.
“I am getting questions constantly from foreign leaders about some of the wackier suggestions that are being made,” Obama told reporters at the White House on Tuesday in response to a question about Trump’s plan to end remittances to Mexico to pay for a border wall.
“There is clearly interest abroad and anxiety, about the meaning of a potential Trump foreign policy,” said Shana Kushner Gadarian, an assistant professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School and co-author of “Anxious Politics: Democratic Citizenship in a Threatening World”.
Gardarian says she’s received several phone calls from foreign journalists asking about Trump’s policies on everything from immigration to trade. She suspects the Obama administration’s stronger stance against Trump may be designed to pacify concerns from business associations abroad and foreign leaders and less for the public.
“The positions he’s taken are so far outside the norms of how government is running right now – even what other Republicans are arguing – you can understand that kind of anxiety,” Gardarian says.
A White House official said the growing response to Trump, is at least, in part, driven by the questions the president has received from reporters. But the official acknowledged that when it comes to questions from foreign leaders about core American values, President Obama will stand up and speak out to defend what he believes.
Former administration officials believe the time to speak up is now.
“Donald Trump's rhetoric has gotten attention well beyond the water’s edge and started to impact perceptions of the United States around the world with the potential to strain our alliances,” said Ben LaBolt, founding partner of The Incite Agency and former national press secretary for the Obama campaign. “It's incumbent upon the President to call it out before it damages our relations.”
Trump has pledged to pay for a wall on the southern border with Mexico by ending the practice of remittances, something President Obama called “impractical” and “not thought through”. Later, the White House would not say if the President discussed it with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
“They don't expect half-baked notions coming out of the White House. We can't afford that,” Obama said.
Trump has also suggested Japan and South Korea should have nuclear weapons and would not rule out using a nuclear weapon in Europe. President Obama was asked about those positions at a news conference Friday at the Nuclear Security Summit.
“The person who made the statements doesn't know much about foreign policy, or nuclear policy, or the Korean Peninsula, or the world generally,” President Obama said.
The administration’s aim has not only been directed at Trump. President Obama recently mentioned Republican presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz’s proposal on immigration.
And other cabinet members and senior administration officials have also responded.
Secretary of State John Kerry, in an interview with “Face the Nation” said Republican presidential candidates’ comments about Muslims are an "embarrassment" to the United States and said world leaders are shocked.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has called those comments "counterproductive" and "inflammatory".
But, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Trump’s comments on NATO didn’t come up at a meeting the president had this week with the NATO Secretary General.
“I think my point is that they had a lot of really important things to discuss, and I’m not sure that Mr. Trump’s comments would fall in that category.”