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Some Republicans push back on Trump's comments on the debt ceiling and Ukraine

The former president said during a CNN town hall that Republicans should let the U.S. default if necessary and refused to call Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal.
Former President Donald Trump participates in a CNN Republican Town Hall moderated by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., on May 10, 2023.
Former President Trump participates in a town hall Thursday moderated by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins in Manchester, N.H.Will Lanzoni / CNN

WASHINGTON — Some Republican lawmakers on Thursday broke with former President Donald Trump's call to let the United States go into default if necessary and his refusal to label Russian President Vladimir Putin a "war criminal."

The strongest pushback came from Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., who was asked if Trump's refusal to call Putin a war criminal for his invasion of Ukraine during a CNN town hall Wednesday night concerned him.

"Of course it does. That’s why I don’t intend to support him for the Republican nomination," Young told reporters at the Capitol.

"I think President Trump’s judgment is wrong in this case. President Putin and his government have been engaged in war crimes. I don’t believe that’s disputed by most who have looked into this and he’s an enemy of the United States, our values, our interests, and the security of the American people," he said.

During an exchange on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, CNN's Kaitlan Collins asked Trump if he believed Putin was a war criminal. President Joe Biden called Putin a war criminal in March of last year.

Trump reiterated his previous claim that he could end the fighting within 24 hours if elected president again, and said: "I think it’s something that should not be discussed now. It should be discussed later."

Todd Young, R-Ind., at a news conference at the Capitol on Aug. 3, 2022.
Todd Young, R-Ind., at a news conference at the Capitol on Aug. 3, 2022.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

"If you say he’s a war criminal, it’s going to be a lot tougher to make a deal to get this thing stopped, because if he’s going to be a war criminal, where people are going to go and grab him and execute him, he’s going to fight a lot harder than he’s fighting, you know, under the other circumstance," he added. 

Trump also said that Republicans should refuse to lift the debt ceiling and let the country go into default, unless Democrats agree to "massive" spending cuts.  

The Treasury Department estimates that the government will exceed its borrowing authority as soon as June 1, unless Congress is able to raise or suspend the debt limit before then.

"I say to the Republicans out there — congressmen, senators — if they don’t give you massive cuts, you’re going to have to do a default. And I don’t believe they’re going to do a default because I think the Democrats will absolutely cave because you don’t want to have that happen. But it’s better than what we’re doing right now because we’re spending money like drunken sailors," Trump said.

He also said that warnings from economists that a default would plunge the country into a recession could be overblown.

"You don’t know. It’s psychological. It’s really psychological more than anything else. And it could be very bad. It could be, maybe, nothing. Maybe it’s — you have a bad week or a bad day, but, look, you have to cut your costs," Trump said.

As president, Trump had said the debt limit should be held "sacred" and not used as a bargaining chip. Asked why his perspective changed, he told Collins, "Because now I’m not president."

Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., suggested that Trump's comments were campaign bluster and wouldn't stop lawmakers from trying to avert a default.

“I forget who said it, but you know, you campaign in poetry and you govern in prose. Clearly, candidates talk about things differently than people who are trying to get to a deal. And I just think most members of Congress, most Republican members understand that the jobs are a little different,” Johnson said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a top Trump ally, said he doesn't support the former president's idea of rolling the dice on a default. But he added, "I think that most Americans are supportive of us addressing the debt before we raise the debt ceiling."

As for Trump's Putin comments, Graham said, "Well, I think he’s a war criminal and I think the president is trying to articulate a position I want to end the war, and, you know, if you start making certain statements about the protagonist, it’ll be hard to find a peaceful solution."

Graham added: "My view is the best way to end this conflict is to make sure you don’t start another war. And if Putin is given a pass, then the likelihood of more bad behavior goes up."

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said Putin "probably" is a war criminal, but that "if the goal is to try to get some kind of a negotiated peace, you know I understand the ex-president’s position."

As for Trump's comments about letting the government go into default, Hawley said, "That's not going to happen."

"He’s not the president so he doesn’t have a vote on it currently," Hawley said. "We’re not going to default."