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Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., speak to reporters at the Deseret News in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 26, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — A South Carolina congressman in Utah for a conference on national security and foreign relations says it’s too early to judge President Donald Trump’s performance in those areas.

“I’m reluctant to issue any grades until the end,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who heads the House Government Oversight Committee.

Amid criticism he is soft on Russia, Trump recently congratulated President Vladimir Putin for winning re-election, which Utah GOP Rep. Chris Stewart said undermines the strong stances the president has taken such as imposing sanctions on Russia and sending weapons to Ukraine.

"I wish he wouldn't have done it, Stewart said.

Trump ordered 60 Russian diplomats and intelligence officers out of the U.S. — all of them spies, the White House said. The United States called it the largest expulsion of Russian spies in American history, and also closed Russia's consulate in Seattle, deeming it a counterintelligence threat.

“You cannot be tough enough on Russia in my estimation,” Gowdy said in an interview, calling Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election an assault on the fundamentals of democracy. “You cannot be tough enough. I think we're trending that direction and (Trump) can’t get there quick enough for me.”

Gowdy, who isn’t seeking re-election, and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., were among the speakers Monday at Stewart’s national security conference titled “Defining America’s Role in the World.”

Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, disagrees Trump has been soft on Russia and said he believes the U.S. is doing well geopolitically but could do better.

"I think we have to have a more active role in confronting China. I think we have to continue to play a pivotal role in confronting North Korea," he said after the conference.

Trump, he said, has helped the U.S. in terms of national security and foreign relations.

"I say that because one president, one man in one year doesn't suddenly destroy nor does he suddenly save the whole world," Stewart said, adding that Trump is willing do what his predecessors have not, particularly with North Korea.

Scott said “presidential hubris” is a necessary component in dealing with North Korea and its leader.

“I would say the president is headed in the right direction in many ways,” he said in an interview, also noting Congress put some $100 billion into the military in the past couple of budget cycles.

Scott and Gowdy, who wrote a book together titled “Unified: How Our Unlikely Friendship Gives Us Hope for a Divided Country,” say unity and reconciliation as Americans is the key to pushing back against threats to democracy. Gowdy said contrast is good but conflict is debilitating.

“Our enemies without want to create discord within,” said Scott, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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Conflict in American society is a real national security risk, he said, adding the U.S. must face outside threats with a united front.

"I don’t believe any nation can destroy this country but they could assist us as we commit suicide," said Stewart, adding that enemies to the U.S. will "help us as we divide and tear ourselves asunder."

Gov. Gary Herbert also attended the conference where he signed a recently passed bill exempting military spouses from having to get Utah licenses to practice certain professions if they are licensed in another state.