Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Photo: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images

Monday's White House visit by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán — billed as an opportunity to cooperate on energy, trade and security issues — has left Washington divided.

The big picture: Hungary is a NATO member and potential partner in countering threats from Russia and China. Yet under Orbán, the country has witnessed democratic backsliding that presents its own threats to transatlantic security. The meeting with President Trump could undermine U.S. leadership on democratic values and human rights.

Where it stands: Holding the upper hand in Central Europe would better position the Trump administration to prevent Russian efforts to divide NATO. The alliance would be endangered if Hungary became a Moscow proxy.

  • President Trump can lean on ideological affinities with Orbán, who supported his campaign and shares his strident views on immigration. Hungarians hope Trump will join an anti-immigration alliance and bolster opposition to the UN’s global migration pact.
  • The meeting is also a chance to push back on Hungary’s deepening ties to China, including its embrace of Huawei — an issue Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised in Budapest in February with Orbán and top officials.

Yes, but: Orbán’s politics skew authoritarian: He has repressed civil society and the media while fueling corruption, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. Trump's meeting with him lends legitimacy to his illiberal agenda.

Between the lines: The meeting takes place as Budapest clashes with the EU over Orbán's agenda — a fight that has reached the U.S. as well.

  • The European Parliament voted in September to trigger potentially punitive proceedings against Hungary, in response to policies of Orbán’s seen as contrary to EU values.
  • Orbán's political party, Fidesz, was suspended in March by the European People’s Party (EPP) for being undemocratic and undercutting the rule of law, in addition to having mounted an anti–EU campaign that targeted EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, a senior member of the EPP and George Soros.
  • U.S. lawmakers introduced a resolution in January condemning Orbán for "efforts to undermine democracy and violate human rights” that has support in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The bottom line: Trump’s meeting with Orbán is raising concerns in Washington and the capitals of U.S. allies across Europe. It may ultimately do little to halt Budapest’s growing ties with Moscow and Beijing, given the extents to which Orbán aligns with Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping and has alienated European leaders.

Jonathan Katz is a senior fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Go deeper

Stocks close down more than 3%

Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld via Getty Images

Stocks took a hit on Wednesday, with the S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrials Average and Nasdaq dropping more than 3% across the board.

Why it matters: The volatility is a break from the stock market grinding higher in the face of spiking coronavirus cases, a stalling economy and gridlocked negotiations over an additional stimulus package.

Zeta, now a Category 2 Hurricane, closes in on Louisiana coast

The probable path of Zeta, per the National Hurricane Center. Photo: NHC/NOAA

Zeta strengthened on Wednesday afternoon, on track to make landfall along the southeastern coast of Louisiana by the afternoon as a "significant" Category 2 hurricane, per the National Hurricane Center.

The state of play: Zeta is producing 100-mph maximum sustained winds and stronger gusts. The storm is gaining strength as it heads northeastward at 20 mph. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) requested a pre-landfall Emergency Declaration in a letter to President Trump on Tuesday.