WEST COLUMBIA — U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, a high-ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, brushed aside concerns Wednesday about President Donald Trump's combative rhetoric toward North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, arguing the president's tweets help to send a strong message to Pyongyang.
Trump taunted Kim in a Tuesday evening missive on Twitter, responding to Kim's annual New Year's address in which he said that he has a nuclear button at the ready on his office desk.
"Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!" Trump tweeted back.
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018
The saber-rattling tweet further escalated tensions between the U.S. and North Korea and alarmed some prominent foreign policy experts.
Eliot Cohen, a counselor to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during the George W. Bush administration, said Trump's tweet sounded like a "petulant ten year old" — but one with nuclear weapons.
"How responsible people around him, or supporting him, can dismiss this or laugh it off is beyond me," Cohen tweeted.
Spoken like a petulant ten year old. But one with nuclear weapons - for real - at his disposal. How responsible people around him, or supporting him, can dismiss this or laugh it off is beyond me. https://t.co/uKu6p1KUWp— Eliot A Cohen (@EliotACohen) January 3, 2018
But Wilson, R-Lexington, said he supports "whatever the president does" and backed Trump's aggressive language.
"He's sending a message to Pyongyang that this is not benign disagreement or whatever the prior policy was," Wilson said. "We are now preparing to defend the American people, to defend the people of South Korea, what an extraordinary country that is, to defend the people of Japan."
As Trump has argued in the past, Wilson said the president's Twitter habit offers a way for him to communicate his views unfiltered.
"A real challenge is that for the president to get his message out, the way to do it is to jump over the mainstream media, and the way to do that is through tweets," Wilson said.
One of few members of Congress to have personally visited Pyongyang, Wilson also holds the rare position of serving on both the armed services and foreign affairs committees.
Having met last year with Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, who is commanding U.S. forces in Seoul, and Navy Adm. Harry Harris of the U.S. Pacific Command, Wilson said America's military leaders are "reinvigorated" to defend the country in the face of North Korea's increased missile tests.
"With Secretary Jim Mattis as the defense secretary, we've got somebody who knows what they're doing, and that is to protect American families," Wilson said.
Wilson also praised United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor, as articulating the Trump administration's policy toward North Korea with particular clarity.
"She's made it clear all options are on the table and we must protect the American people," Wilson said.
Wilson's comments came at the start of a daylong tour around the state's 2nd Congressional District, which stretches from Columbia to North Augusta on South Carolina's border with Georgia.
In a news conference at his West Columbia office, Wilson came face to face with a few of the Democratic activists that have protested him throughout the last year, including one of his potential 2018 opponents, Annabelle Robertson.
"I'm concerned about your use of the phrase, 'jumping over the media,'" Robertson told him. "Since the beginning of our country, these rights of the media have been enshrined in our Constitution."
Wilson responded that every president has looked to go around the media to some degree, describing Trump's efforts as a "very appropriate" way to address the American people.
"There are people who can disagree and that's part of the American process," he said, as a few protesters began drowning him out with chants of "Shame."