Republican senators walked a tightrope Tuesday after the ouster of national security adviser John Bolton, both praising him for his service and agreeing with President Trump that he deserves a more compatible adviser.
One notable exception was Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who said he was “very, very unhappy” Bolton was leaving.
“His view was not always the same as everybody else in the room. That’s why you wanted him there. The fact that he was a contrarian from time to time is an asset, not a liability,” Romney told reporters after the president tweeted that Bolton had been fired.
“It is a huge loss for the administration, in my opinion, and for the nation,” Romney added.
On the other end of the spectrum, isolationist Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) hailed Bolton’s departure, saying the “threat of war worldwide goes down exponentially with John Bolton out of the White House.”
“I think his advocacy for regime change around the world is a naive world view and I think the world will be a much better place with new advisers to the president and hopefully somebody who’s actually listening to what the president says over and over again: that he wants to bring America’s longest war to a close,” Paul said.
Trump tweeted early Tuesday afternoon that he asked for Bolton’s resignation, citing disagreements with Bolton’s policy advice.
“I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House. I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration,” Trump tweeted
Bolton later tweeted that he offered his resignation Monday night.
“I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow,’” Bolton said.
Bolton’s ouster caps an 18-month tenure in which Trump increasingly broke with his adviser and Bolton’s influence in the administration steadily waned.
Most recently, Bolton was reportedly fiercely opposed to Trump’s scrapped plan to meet with the Taliban at Camp David for peace talks to end the 18-year-old war in Afghanistan.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump ally, suggested on Tuesday the Taliban meeting was the breaking point between Trump and Bolton.
Asked if he was given advance warning about Bolton, Graham told reporters that he “knew there was some concerns about the whole Taliban meeting, but I didn’t know for sure.”
Graham said that while Bolton “served the country well,” Trump “deserves as national security adviser he has confidence in.”
“It’s time for him to move on because the president wants somebody else,” Graham said.
Paul similarly speculated that differences over Afghanistan contributed to Bolton’s downfall, but stressed that he didn’t have “inside information.”
“The president has a great desire to bring America’s longest war to an end. I don’t think that’s been the position of Mr. Bolton, and I think that maybe that brought things to a head,” Paul said.
Democrats, who disagreed with Bolton in most areas, blasted the announcement of his departure as the latest sign of instability in Trump’s foreign policy.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called Bolton’s ouster “just the latest example of [Trump’s] government-by-chaos approach and his rudderless national security policy.”
“When Ambassador Bolton’s extreme views aren’t enough for you, the United States is headed for even more chaotic times,” Schumer said.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said he was “legitimately shaken” by the news.
“I’m legitimately shaken by the grave instability of American foreign policy today,” Murphy tweeted. ”I’m no Bolton fan, but the world is coming apart, and the revolving door of U.S. leadership is disappearing America from the world just at the moment where a stable American hand is most needed.”
And Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), stressing his disagreements with Bolton’s viewpoints, said his ouster is indicative of Trump surrounding himself with “yes men.”
“He doesn’t want anyone who presents a countervailing view for his consideration,” Menendez said. “And when all you get is yes men around you, then the consequences of that, not only are you in a bubble, but since the president is often wrong, particularly on foreign policy, well, then the consequences of that is somebody’s going to embolden him instead of challenge him as to what the national security of the United States is all about.”
But Republican Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (Idaho) said he is not worried about instability, saying Trump needs to have a close relationship with his national security adviser.
“That relationship between the president and the national security adviser has got to be a relationship that is very solid and that the president has absolutely 100 percent confidence in,” Risch said.
Most GOP senators took a similar tact as Risch.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said “it’s probably a good thing” Bolton is leaving, even as he expressed some disappointment.
“Mr. Bolton and the president weren’t seeing eye to eye,” Johnson said. “People aren’t going to agree on everything, but I think when it reaches that point it’s probably a good thing they parted company.”
“I have a lot of respect for John Bolton. I hate to see him leave,” he added.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he’s a “big fan” of Bolton’s, but that Trump “has the right to have who he wants around him.”
“In my view he did a good job, but ultimately that’s the president’s decision to make,” Rubio said. “It’s my personal view that he did a good job, but he didn’t work for me. He worked for the president, so ultimately the president has a right to people working for him that he’s comfortable with.”
Jordain Carney contributed