President Donald Trump and his top foreign policy ally in the House of Representatives increasingly seem to be on different pages when it comes to major international issues. Just two days after arguing that the administration is not being aggressive enough in its approach to North Korea, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ed Royce (R-CA) denounced a referendum in Turkey that gave that country’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, extraordinary powers over the legislature and judiciary.
Hours before, Trump had personally called Erdogan to congratulate him.
Western powers were, in general, alarmed at the vote in Turkey, partly because it establishes Erdogan as something close to a dictator in a country that the US and other Western nations are obligated to through NATO treaties. There was also widespread concern that the vote was not conducted in a fair and transparent manner.
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Royce said, “Turkey’s creeping authoritarianism continues. All who value democracy, pluralism and Turkey’s key role in the region should be concerned about the elimination of important checks and balances in the Turkish system. Many Turks are concerned.”
He added, “I am especially troubled by initial reports of irregularities and an ‘unlevel playing field’ from independent election observers, and I will review the full body of facts when they are released in the days ahead.”
That contrasted sharply with the White House readout of a phone call between President Trump and Erdogan, which noted, “President Donald J. Trump spoke today with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to congratulate him on his recent referendum victory and to discuss the United States’ action in response to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons on April 4th.”
The White House readout noted several other topics discussed by the two leaders, but the calls by international observers for an investigation of possible vote fraud was not among them.
Trump’s decision to call and congratulate Erdogan reminded many that the Trump organization, which the president still personally owns and which two of his adult children are running, has what Trump himself referred to as a “major, major building” in Istanbul.
“It’s a tremendously successful job,” he said last year in a radio interview with Steve Bannon, then of Breitbart News, who would later become his campaign chairman before joining the Trump White House. “It’s called Trump Towers — two towers, instead of one. Not the usual one. It’s two.”
In the same interview, Trump admitted that the presence of a large Trump property in Turkey’s capital created “a little conflict of interest.”
Earlier this year, that conflict of interest was raised again after Erdogan called for Trump’s name to be struck off the building after he proposed a ban on people from a number of majority-Muslim nations from entering the US. Trump later defended Erdogan’s much-criticized crackdown on opposition leaders, journalists and others in the wake of a coup attempt last year, and there have been no further calls from the Turkish president to have Trump’s name taken off the building.
That Trump and Royce are in different places regarding Turkey is less surprising than it might be after Royce’s appearance on CNN Sunday morning in which he indirectly criticized the administration’s approach to the increasingly tense situation on the Korean peninsula. While Trump appears willing to give China some time to exert what influence it can over the North Korean government, Royce called for direct action that would, effectively, shut down as many as 10 Chinese banks that do business with Pyongyang.