By Sam Youngman - 06/21/09 10:28 AM EDT
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, said on Fox News Sunday that Iran "is a regime that is going to have nuclear weapons soon."
Hoekstra's comments came as the debate over how much the U.S. should get involved in the unrest in Iran reached a fever-pitch, with the White House taking a stronger stance over the weekend but remaining cautious.
Hoekstra said that Obama "prepared himself" to deal with the situation in Iran, violent protests following the country's disputed presidential elections, by reaching out to the nation of Islam with his speech in Cairo, Egypt. Now, Hoekstra said, Obama "has to use that credibility" to influence what's happening in Iran.
The Michigan congressman may well be the first U.S. lawmaker to view Iran's nuclear capabilities as an inevitability, saying Obama's focus should be "what regime will have control of those nuclear weapons."
"This is an opportunity to get some new leadership in here, because the question with Iran going into the future is not about whether they will have a nuclear weapon or not," Hoekstra told host Chris Wallace. "It is about what -- what regime will have control of those weapons and whether they will be integrated into the international community or whether they will be a pariah in the international community."
Across the Sunday shows, Republicans continued to press the president to take a harder stance on the Iranian situation, offering tepid support for Obama's slightly tougher words Saturday, while Democrats said Obama is making the appropriate moves.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" that he is "absolutely" for regime change in Iran, taking a far bolder stance that the Obama administration that has said from the beginning that the perception of U.S. interference would be counterproductive.
Graham said he was encouraged by Obama's statement Saturday condemning the Iranian government for violence against its own people, but he said the president has "been timid and passive more than I would like."
"He's certainly moving in the right direction, but our point is that there is a monumental event going on in Iran, and you know, the president of the United States is supposed to lead the free world, not follow it," Graham said.
Congressional members' tones seemed to be escalating toward more involvement in the situation Sunday.
Even Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd (Conn.), also appearing on "This Week," seemed to back more aggressive action, endorsing a proposal by House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) that would halt gasoline sales to Iran but only if the international community goes along.
Dodd even backed Graham's call for a regime change, saying he "would love to see" a new regime in Iran, but he cautioned against U.S. "ownership" of such a movement.
"The question is, should the United States take ownership of this revolution?" Dodd said. "I think we do great damage to the effort if it appears this is a U.S.-led effort. Then I think we do damage to the people -- that's exactly what Ahmadinejad would like. It's what the supreme leader would like to say, this is a U.S.-led opposition, not a homegrown, organic revolution being led by Iranians."
Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.) said "there are clear indications" that the election in Iran was fixed, but he said the president has taken the right path so far.
"We should not let them change the narrative to one of being, you know, meddling Americans, American western imperialism, that sort of thing, because historically that sort of narrative has resonated that would -- might allow them to change the subject within Iran and in the rest of the Islamic world," Bayh said on Fox News Sunday. "Let's not let them do that."
At least 17 people are reported dead as supporters of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi have taken to the streets to protest the Iranian government's claim that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won reelection.
The White House has walked the tight rope since the election, offering support for the protesters but refraining from picking a side in the election dispute.