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Democratic Senator Reacts To Trump's Escalated North Korea Rhetoric


The city of Charlottesville, Va., is grieving today. Three people are dead - one of them a woman who was killed allegedly by a white supremacist driving his car into a group of counter-protesters. We'll have a report from Charlottesville in a few minutes. But first, we have Senator Joe Donnelly on the line. He's a Democrat from Indiana who also serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Good morning, sir.

JOE DONNELLY: Good morning. Thanks for having me with you. And my thoughts and prayers are with the people of Charlottesville, as well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes. I'd like your reaction, actually, to the events in Charlottesville.

DONNELLY: Well, I think that the white supremacists are focused on bigotry and hatred. And there's no place for that in our country. And our response in Indiana is to care about one another, love one another. And I think that's the best of America. What we saw in the actions of the white supremacist is some of the worst.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is it significant that so many Republicans are speaking out?

DONNELLY: Well, I think we would naturally expect that. I know the individuals who serve in the Senate. They're my colleagues. They're my friends. I'm not surprised at all because they are extraordinary people who are appalled by bigotry and appalled by these kind of actions.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to turn to North Korea for a moment. What is your response to the president's fire and fury remarks? Are they warranted?

DONNELLY: Well, I think what we really are focused on sending as a message to North Korea is that we're ready to go. We're ready to protect our country. We're ready to take whatever steps and actions are necessary to do that. We've been preparing for this for a very, very long time. I was over in South Korea just a year or two ago, actually, going over these very types of preparations. And so our nation is ready to protect our citizens.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You say ready to protect our citizens. The president said the U.S. military is locked and loaded. I'd like to understand exactly what that means.

DONNELLY: I think what that means is that our Navy is ready to protect our citizens. For instance, we have, you know, over 60 destroyers at the Aegis Missile Defense System. As part of them, we have over 20 missile cruisers, as well. And these are missile defense systems that are designed specifically to knock down things like the North Koreans are working on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But has something changed in the last few weeks?

DONNELLY: Well, I think what has changed is that Kim Jong-Un continues to push forward. And when he starts talking about Guam, those are our citizens. And in addition, any missiles that head in our direction go over our friend and ally Japan. And so he's made a very specific comment about a very specific target that is part of the United States. And we have always said we defend our country, and we defend our friends.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But is our posture different now? Have things been moved around in order to react to this?

DONNELLY: You know, I'm sure that we are moving a lot of assets - ships, military, personnel, similar things - because we have to be ready. You know, my obligation first and foremost is to protect the people of this country. And so we prepare for the worst. We hope for the best. We hope the worst doesn't happen. But we want to be ready in case it does.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Does Congress need to authorize the president to use force against North Korea?

DONNELLY: Well, if there is a war that's declared, that would be appropriate. That would be needed. But the president also has the obligation or responsibility, if something happens immediately, to take appropriate action and then for Congress to become part of it right away.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, that's Senator Joe Donnelly. Thank you so much for being with us this morning.

DONNELLY: It is my privilege. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.