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Mitch McConnell goes against some in the GOP

Mitch McConnell hits GOP over rightward drift in foreign policy

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell opened a new front in his battle to shape the Trump-era GOP this week when he torched Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and called out Republicans who have sought to boost the far-right strongman.

Fresh off his victory on Ukraine aid, McConnell is making clear he isn’t finished trying to blunt what he sees as a dangerous foreign policy doctrine taking hold in the Republican Party under Donald Trump.

McConnell took to the Senate floor Thursday to deliver a forceful rebuke of members of his own party who have fawned over Orbán — though without mentioning Trump by name, of course. Hungary is a European Union and NATO member, which complicates the dynamic even further.

But McConnell pleaded with pro-Orbán conservatives in the GOP to cut it out, citing Orbán’s open hostility to the Western alliance and his deference to U.S. adversaries like China, Russia and Iran.

“This isn’t where America should be taking our foreign policy cues,” McConnell said. “I didn’t think conservatives had any time for those who suck up to Iran.”

The longtime Hungarian leader has won fans in the American right for challenging European governments’ embrace of progressive causes and championing right-wing culture war issues. Trump and many of his allies have hailed Orbán’s government as a model.

McConnell declared that Orbán is undermining Western security by deepening Hungary’s ties with China, cozying up to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and seeking to “legitimize” the Iranian government with trade missions.

McConnell also called out the Republicans who have justified their opposition to Ukraine aid by emphasizing China as the bigger threat while at the same time aligning with an autocrat in Orbán, who just rolled out the “red carpet” for China’s Xi Jinping.

More from McConnell:

Pulling back the curtain: McConnell is riding high after he steamrolled Trump-aligned Republicans in helping push through $60 billion in new Ukraine funding. But McConnell’s influence within the Senate GOP Conference has waned as Trump allies have replaced many of his longtime colleagues. McConnell isn’t seeking another term as GOP leader. McConnell hasn’t said whether he’s running again in 2026.

McConnell’s remarks were significant as he effectively opened a new rift with the Trump-aligned faction of his party, which has grown close with Orbán and his political operation over the years.

Trump endorsed Orbán ahead of his 2022 reelection bid. CPAC has expanded its conferences to include Budapest. And in March, the Heritage Foundation — long a touchstone for conservatives — hosted Orbán.

In the past year alone, Orbán has overseen a strict crackdown on democratic norms including freedom of the press and the independent judiciary, blocked NATO approval for Finland and Sweden to extract unrelated concessions and developed closer ties with China.

McConnell noted that this includes giving Beijing “sweeping law enforcement authorities to hunt dissidents on Hungarian soil.” Hungary has also allowed Chinese telecom giant Huawei to operate in the country, including as part of its 5G expansion. Huawei has been banned in the United States over cyber espionage concerns.

The Senate GOP leader said Orbán’s posture “should raise red flags for anyone seriously concerned about strategic competition with China.”

To be sure: Orbán has invited plenty of criticism from Republican lawmakers over the years.

Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sought to block weapons sales to Hungary when Orbán was holding up Finland and Sweden’s NATO accession.

Risch told us that Orbán’s government is “bad and getting worse.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close Trump ally, said Hungary will be “isolated” economically and geopolitically for its decision to green-light Huawei.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who was snubbed by Orbán when he and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) visited Budapest in February, believes McConnell is “looking ahead to the next supplemental” funding bill — whether that’s for Ukraine, Taiwan or another ally.

“He’s trying to send a message to our NATO allies — you’re either with us or you’re not,” Tillis said, lamenting “how far [Orbán] has fallen from his commitments to democracy” in the 1990s.

Among the conservatives who have praised Orbán is Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), a close Trump ally who’s viewed as a potential running mate. Vance said on Thursday he hadn’t yet heard McConnell’s remarks and declined to weigh in.

— Andrew Desiderio

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