M-16s and motorcycles: Democrat scolds Trump for cozying up to Philippines' strongman president

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump has invited President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines to Washington.
  • House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Joe Crowley questioned Trump's outreach, highlighting the accusations that Duterte supports a violent crackdown on drug suspects.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte
Erik De Castro | Reuters

A top House Democrat on Tuesday blasted President Donald Trump for establishing closer ties with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who is accused of directing a murderous crackdown on drugs.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Joe Crowley of New York questioned Trump's invitation of Duterte to Washington following what the White House described as a "very friendly" phone call between the leaders Saturday. Crowley scolded Trump, highlighting Duterte's boasts last year that he personally killed criminal suspects while patrolling Davao City, where he was mayor, from the back of a motorcycle.

"Where I have concerns is when you reach out to dictators like Duterte. ... What kind of meeting is he hoping to have? Are they both going to go on the back of a motorcycle with M-16s and go for a joyride?" Crowley asked at a news conference. "I mean, this man has actually shot people in extrajudicial killings himself. ... And somehow we're going to invite him to the White House? That's not the American way."

Crowley highlighted the Duterte meeting as only one of his concerns about Trump and authoritarian leaders. He cited Trump calling North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un a "smart cookie," as well as Trump's scheduled phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin later Tuesday.

Human rights groups have accused Duterte of supporting extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, where police in several cities are widely suspected of murdering drug users and their dealers on the streets. At least 4,500 Filipinos were killed in the last five months of 2016 alone as part of the country's war on drugs.

Establishing relations with foreign leaders accused of human rights abuses is not a new for phenomenon for American presidents.

The White House has said that Trump wants to establish a relationship with Duterte because he may need his help in dealing with North Korea's nuclear threats. Trump has also said he wants to cooperate with Russia on fighting the terror group ISIS, though the United States and Russia have divergent strategic goals in Syria.

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told ABC this weekend that the contact with Duterte "doesn't mean that human rights don't matter."