President Donald Trump beckoned the entire US Senate to the White House Wednesday for a briefing on North Korea, but senators returned to the Capitol saying they didn't hear anything new.
"What was discussed, I already knew," said Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chair of the Foreign Relations committee, after stepping off one of the coach buses that transported senators.
"I'm not certain I would have had the briefing today, but I do appreciate — you know, they've got a great team that they put together," he said.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a freshman Democrat from Maryland, echoed Corker, telling CNN that while the briefing was classified, it was "pretty much what you've been hearing in the press."
Many senators, who rode in buses to the meeting Wednesday — one with a "Bus4Hire" logo on its side, another with duct tape stuck to a rear window — refused to comment on what they heard at the briefing after returning to the Capitol Wednesday afternoon, citing confidentiality.
Senators did say that Trump was present at the briefing to welcome them, and then passed it over to the team running the show: Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford.
A senior administration official said the intent of the briefing was to "communicate the seriousness of the threat from North Korea."
Instead of receiving the briefing at the Capitol, as is customary, the 100 or so senators loaded onto coach buses Wednesday afternoon to be transported to the White House. Though some Democrats were unhappy with the unusual location, with Sen. Chris Murphy calling it a "100 days photo op," Sen. Lindsey Graham said earlier in the day that holding the briefing at the White House "lets the Congress know and us know this is a very big deal."
Graham, like others, has expressed concern over North Korea's ballistic missile program and the possibility of the country obtaining a missile that could reach US soil. "No war is better than a war," Graham said, but added that he believes North Korea won't end the program until it knows the US is willing to use military force.
"To those who say we could shoot it down, we don't have the capability — yet," Graham said. “So what are you left with? Let them have a missile with a nuclear weapon on top, or stop them? The only way to stop them — if it is military force, so be it. That would be the end of North Korea."
Following the briefing, Sen. Cory Gardner, a member of GOP leadership in the Senate, said "it's clear" the administration "is going to take more and more steps to pressure China as well as others in the region to get the results we need, which is peaceful denuclearisation."
The senior administration official, speaking at a separate White House briefing for reporters, said the administration is looking at increasing economic pressure on North Korea and is considering military preparations. The official would not characterize those preparations, however.
The official mentioned that in a recent display of new military weapons, North Korea showed off vehicles built with completely with parts made outside of North Korea, down to the tires. The official suggested economic pressure would seek to target the ways weaponry makes it to North Korea.
Gardner and other senators confirmed the administration did not ask Congress for help in dealing with North Korea.
Sen. Ted Cruz said the presenters "walked through the diplomatic, the economic, and the military aspects of dealing with North Korea, and all of the steps we're taking to try to prevent that very dangerous situation from getting even worse."
Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat, said he was optimistic that the administration was looking to address the threat in a nonpartisan way, and reiterated that the administration mentioned possible sanctions and working with China to use their leverage with the North Koreans.
Though the briefing was apparently low on new information, it did provide senators the opportunity for a short field trip to the White House.
Cruz said riding the bus was fun. "It's kind of like a school bus in junior high," he said after returning to the Capitol.
Emma Loop is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. PGP fingerprint: 4A39 DD99 953C 6CAF D68C 85CD C380 AB23 859B 0611.
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Adrian Carrasquillo is the White House correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
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