Jun 13, 2018, 5:58 PM ET

Senators move to prevent Trump from removing US troops in South Korea


A pair of Senate Democrats introduced a bill Wednesday that would prevent President Donald Trump from unilaterally drawing down the American troop presence on the Korean peninsula – not necessarily because he’s said he will, but because they don’t want to rely on his word that he won’t.

Other measures that also tie the president’s hands, but don’t go as far, are already closer to being passed as part of an essential military policy bill.

The new legislation, from Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., would prevent Trump from withdrawing troops from South Korea unless the secretary of defense says it’s in the interest of national security and that it would not undermine the security of allies in the region.

“U.S. troops are not bargaining chips to be offered up in an off-handed manner,” Duckworth said in a statement.

During his summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Trump announced the U.S. would be ending large-scale annual military exercises conducted with South Korea but insisted that the status of the 28,500 American soldiers on the peninsula is not up for negotiation.

“They are going to stay. We didn’t even discuss that, that wasn’t discussed,” Trump said in an interview with Voice of America.

But he also said, during a press conference, that he still wants to draw down troops in Korea at some point – just not as part of negotiations over the North’s nuclear capability.

“At some point, I have to be honest. I used to say this during my campaign… I want to bring our soldiers back home. We have 32,000 soldiers in South Korea. I would like to be able to bring them back home. That’s not part of the equation. At some point, I hope it would be,” he said.

PHOTO: Senator Chris Murphy (D) Connecticut on This WeekABC News
Senator Chris Murphy (D) Connecticut on 'This Week'

That type of uncertainty was enough for Murphy to try to establish some new restrictions.

“I don’t think it’s smart policy for Congress to rely on the word of the president,” the Connecticut Democrat told ABC. “This time he gave away exercises for nothing, what’s to stop him from giving away troops for nothing?”

The two Democrats want their amendment added to the Senate’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets military policy for the next fiscal year. The House’s version already has a similar provision, which would limit funds that can be used to reduce troop levels in South Korea, and the Senate includes a “sense of the Senate” provision stipulating that “the significant removal of the United States military forces from the Korean Peninsula is a non-negotiable item” as it relates to North Korea’s denuclearization.

Once each chamber passes its respective NDAA, the two must be merged in what is known as a conference committee.

So while Murphy would obviously like to see his bill passed, he acknowledged that this year’s NDAA will be making some sort of a statement warning the president not to try to reduce troop levels in South Korea unless there is a national security imperative.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, who wrote the sense of the Senate resolution, said he is concerned Trump might try to limit troop numbers on the Korean peninsula, which he warned would play right into China’s desires to have an unchallenged presence in the region.

“The Chinese have probably been coaching Kim Jong Un to seek that as part of the nuclear negotiation goals,” he told ABC.

Last month, Trump ordered the Pentagon to issue options for reducing the American presence in South Korea, despite his administration’s assurances that they were not a bargaining chip in the Kim talks.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said those kinds of comments indicate that it might be time to consider tying the president’s hands when it comes to defense on the peninsula.

“I generally wouldn’t be open to that, but I might be now,” he told ABC, although he added that the Senate should hold a hearing on the Murphy/Duckworth proposition before any votes are contemplated.

News - Senators move to prevent Trump from removing US troops in South Korea

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  • James

    Only the Democrats could find themselves to a position where they were wrong and Donald Friggen Trump was right.

  • William Lund

    30,000 troops on the border of South Korea or the American border. A no brainer if you ask 90 percent of Americans.

  • Del Allegood

    Good luck with THAT at the supreme court.

  • MickC

    Trump's claim that pulling U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula will save a bundle is very likely the opposite of the truth.
    He - and the newspapers - fail to mention that South Korea pays $900,000,000 of the costs of U.S. troops in Korea, almost half.
    Without troops there, the possibility of North Korea's 1.2 million man army overrunning the South in a fait-accompli are so likely that the USA would have to spend billions for a quick-strike force to get back on the peninsula before it's gone.
    In any case, Japan would be forced to greatly rearm and a potential challenger to Pacific control would cause us to spend billions more on the Navy.

  • goat stare

    This is crap and these Democrats are war mongering filth pigs.

  • Angelina Marie

    Sounds like the Military Industrial Congressional Complex needs more money.

  • Anne-Marie Mazur

    War mongers getting annoyed with Trumplestiltskin, I see. Worried about China? I haven't seen them invading other countries like the US has been doing for 200+ years. And I see people talking out their asses pontificating about geo-politics and "needing" our "troops" to remain in a country that doesn't BELONG to us. How many military installations in how many countries does our war-mongering state have again? I forget.....

  • DaeguDave

    The Democratic party continues to attack Trump from the Right. If we wind up having a Peace Treaty between North and South Korea, and North Korea and the US, there is no REASON for troops to be stationed in South Korea AT ALL. And the only ones who will benefit from troops staying there are the bars, pawn shops and restaurants that are next to the bases, who will need to find different customers for their businesses. If you talk to most South Koreans--and I lived there for 6 years--MOST would rather have peace, reconciliation and eventual reunification with North Korea than house US troops for another 65 years.

  • b rubble

    Before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea. No longer - sleep well tonight! Your great leader had just dodged another war.

  • b rubble

    tRump's version - I have successfully accomplished the denuclearization of North Korea!

    Kim's version - I have successfully accomplished the de Neutering of the United States of America!

  • GoFish

    Why not bring the troops home? Why not take care of the US debt and leave a future for our children and grand children?

  • Arc_Fault_One

    Democrats for keeping a military presence in another country, wow.

  • John Tetreault

    What part of Article II Section 2 of the Constitution do the senators not understand? "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States,..."

    Any such law would violate the separation of powers as an unconstitutional restriction of executive authority.

  • RedSoxPatriotsCelticsBruinsFan

    Why are the dems constantly self destructing? Move the troops out let North and South unite.

  • Liars N. Fools

    Actually the bulk of U.S. Forces Korea is already well south now and soon with the expansion of Camp Humphreys and the moving out of the Yongsan base in Seoul. So they are further away from the DMZ.

    That being said, it is actually far more expensive to post these troops in the U.S. because the host countries spend quite a lot of money supporting them.....a fact that Trump is ignorant of.

    A bad deal maker who doesn't know the facts.

  • JuPMod

    Trump and others keep forgetting that the Korea War has not ever been 'officially' over, for no peace treaty was ever signed. Until NK poses no threat to SK, I really do not recommend withdrawing troops.

  • John Smith

    How about we don't sell out to dictators and get nothing in return. No wonder Trump declared bankruptcy so many times. He couldn't negotiate his way out of a wet paper bag.

  • Andrew Konigs

    How about we defend America's borders instead of worrying about Asia? 21 Trillion dollars in debt and counting, largely because of the endless wars in every corner of the world.