Trump congratulates Orbán for doing ‘tremendous job’

US president heaps praise on Hungary’s controversial PM during Oval Office visit

May 14th, 2019: US President Donald Trump congratulated the controversial Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán for doing a “tremendous job”. Video: The White House

 

US President Donald Trump congratulated Viktor Orbán for doing a “tremendous job” as prime minister of Hungary as he welcomed the controversial leader to the Oval Office on Monday.

Speaking alongside Mr Orbán, Mr Trump said it was a “great honour” to have him in the White House. Mr Orbán, he said, was “highly respected, respected all over Europe. Probably like me a little bit controversial, but that’s okay, you’ve done a great job and you’ve kept your country safe.”

“I know he’s a tough man, but he’s a respected man,” Mr Trump said, adding that the Hungarian leader is doing “the right thing” with his immigration policy.

“Thank you very much for being in the White House. Thank you very much. It’s a great honour,” he continued.

Mr Trump was speaking as he greeted Mr Orbán for a bilateral meeting – the first encounter between the two men.

Mr Orbán thanked Mr Trump for the invitation to the White House, his first since meeting Bill Clinton in 1998.

“We are proud that so many Hungarians contributed to the tremendous progress of the United States. I am very happy to be here again.”

He said the aim of the meeting was to “strengthen our strategic alliance, discuss global political issues and to stand with the United States in fighting against illegal migration, on terrorism and to protect and help Christian communities across the world.”

Mr Trump thanked Hungary for the work it had done helping “Christian communities ... We appreciate that very much.”

Rule of law

Questioned by reporters about rule of law in Hungary, Mr Orbán said the country had a new constitution since 2011 that was “functioning well”.

Mr Orbán, who won a third term as leader last year, was one of the first world leaders to endorse Donald Trump when he ran for president in 2016. Mr Orbán, a controversial figure who has moved increasingly to the right in recent years, has been censured by the European Parliament for his country’s increasingly authoritarian bent in recent years. He has taken a hard stance on migration into his country, embraced nationalism and curbed the independent media.

Mr Orbán’s visit to Washington symbolised a shift in US policy towards the country, and follows a visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Hungary in February.

President Barack Obama did not invite the Hungarian leader to meet him while he was president, and the State Department censured Hungary multiple times over concerns about rule of law there.

Speaking ahead of the visit, White House officials said Mr Orbán’s visit was part of a broader engagement by the US administration with countries in central Europe “who have really stepped up as excellent allies in the region”.

Other meetings

Mr Orbán is one of several central European leaders to have met Mr Trump in recent months. He received Czech prime minister Andrej Babis in March, and Slovakian prime minister Peter Pellegrini last month.

A visit by the Polish prime minister was postponed but is expected to take place imminently.

Several members of Congress expressed unease at the meeting ahead of Monday’s encounter between the two men.

“In recent years democracy in Hungary has significantly eroded ... Under Orbán, the election process has become less competitive and the judiciary is increasingly controlled by the state,” wrote the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jim Risch, and ranking Democrat Robert Menendez in a letter to Mr Trump.

Presidential candidate and Independent senator Bernie Sanders also weighed in on Twitter. “Victor Orbán is undermining democracy in Hungary, just as Donald Trump is in the United States. The job of the president of the United States should be to stand up for democratic values, not embrace leaders who reject them,” he said.