GOP anxiety grows over Trump’s Iran decision

President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House counsel called Trump 'King Kong' behind his back: report Trump stays out of Arizona's ugly and costly GOP fight Trump claims he instructed White House counsel to cooperate with Mueller MORE’s threat to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal is causing anxiety on Capitol Hill, including among GOP lawmakers who opposed the pact but fear there will be grave consequences from withdrawing.

Trump has sent mixed signals about what he will do after May 12, the next deadline to recertify what he on Tuesday derided as an “insane” and “ridiculous” agreement with Iran.

Republican lawmakers are divided over what Trump should do.

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Some fear that pulling out of the deal would result in Iran accelerating its weapons programs. They also worry the move will alienate key U.S. allies and make it tougher for Trump to negotiate a nuclear deal with North Korea.

Trump hinted at a possible shift on Tuesday after meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, who is lobbying to keep the United States in the deal.  

“Nobody knows what I’m going to do on the 12th, although Mr. President, you have a pretty good idea,” Trump said to Macron at a joint press conference.

Macron replied with a wink.

While Trump slammed the Obama-era agreement, he also said he’s open to a new deal that strengthens and extends some of its terms.

That’s music to the ears of those Republicans who want Trump to stick with the deal and work with allies to improve it.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulHillicon Valley: Trump escalates feud with intel critics | Tesla shares fall after troubling Musk interview | House panel considers subpoena for Twitter's Jack Dorsey | Why Turkish citizens are breaking their iPhones Overnight Defense: Trump cancels military parade, blames DC for cost | DC mayor hits back | Pentagon warns China 'likely' training for strikes against US | Turkey refuses to release US pastor On Russia we need diplomacy, not just sanctions MORE (R-Ky.) didn’t support the agreement, but said it doesn’t make sense for Trump to withdraw now.

“I think it’s a bad idea,” Paul said of quitting the accord, which the U.S. negotiated with France, Germany, Britain, China, Russia and the European Union. “This was a multilateral deal, and the reason sanctions work against Iran is because we were unified in negotiating the deal.”

Paul argued that Iran has already reaped the economic benefits of sanctions being lifted. If the U.S. were to exit, he said, it would only make it tougher for international inspectors to monitor Iran’s nuclear program.

Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoSenate GOP battles for leverage with House on spending Lawmakers, media team up for charity tennis event The Hill's Morning Report — Trump picks new fight with law enforcement, intelligence community MORE (R-W.Va.) didn’t support the agreement when the Obama administration negotiated it but worries about the fallout from the U.S. going back on its word.

“I do think there’s merit to being part of a group that’s heavily monitoring what’s going on and seeing certain developments,” she said. “And I think we have to pay close attention to what our allies are saying.

“I would tread lightly here if I were the president.” 

Macron sounded an optimistic tone on Tuesday.

“It’s not a mystery we did not have the same starting positions,” he said. “I believe that the discussions we’ve had together make it possible to open the way, to pave the way for a new agreement.”

Macron signaled he wants to strengthen the existing deal, adding, “I’m not saying that we move from one agreement to another.”

While Trump appeared receptive to Macron’s message, he has changed his mind before after moving to a middle ground.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTo make the House of Representatives work again, make it bigger Reforms can stop members of Congress from using their public office for private gain Election Countdown: GOP worries House majority endangered by top of ticket | Dems make history in Tuesday's primaries | Parties fight for Puerto Rican vote in Florida | GOP lawmakers plan 'Freedom Tour' MORE (N.Y.) and House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiBoogeywomen — GOP vilifies big-name female Dems Sen. Warner to introduce amendment limiting Trump’s ability to revoke security clearances New Dem ad uses Paterno, KKK, affair allegations to tar GOP leaders MORE (Calif.), for instance, thought they had a deal with the president to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program after a meeting last year.

Trump also appeared to endorse universal background checks at a bipartisan summit on gun violence in February and then backed away from the idea.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSen. Warner to introduce amendment limiting Trump’s ability to revoke security clearances White House weighs clawing back State, foreign aid funding Rand Paul to ask Trump to lift sanctions on Russian leaders MORE (R-Tenn.) said he still thinks Trump will withdraw from the Iran deal.

“If no framework agreement with the three European countries is reached by May 12, he will pull out. That’s why you’re seeing Macron focus on it and Merkel, when she comes [to the U.S.], focus on it,” Corker said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to meet with Trump on Friday to hammer home the message that the United States shouldn’t let the agreement collapse.

“By the time those two meetings end, I hope they’ve reached a framework agreement,” Corker added. “I know that in the event that doesn’t happen, he’s going to pull out.”

One of Trump’s big complaints is that the nuclear curbs on Iran will eventually lapse.

Corker has told French and German officials that the deal would be improved significantly if the limits on Iran’s nuclear capabilities were extended.  

Another Trump complaint is that the deal did nothing to curtail Iran’s missile program, which poses a threat to Israel and other U.S. allies in the region.

Paul, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, notes that Iran has complied with its end of the deal, which does not include its ballistic missile program.

“The deal may not have been perfect, but thus far the Trump administration has acknowledged that Iran is adhering with the agreement,” Paul said. “I would suggest instead of pulling out of the agreement, negotiate another agreement that includes ballistic missiles.”

Republican lawmakers also warn that tearing up the Iran deal could make it tougher to negotiate a nuclear agreement with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who would have reason to believe that the U.S. would not abide by the terms.

“That’s another thing,” said Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump stays out of Arizona's ugly and costly GOP fight Voters will punish Congress for ignoring duty on war and peace GOP Senate candidate truncates Trump tweet in campaign mailer MORE (R-Ariz.), another member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Flake said he didn’t support the deal in the first place but warned that terminating it would only hurt U.S. interests.

“Iran has realized the benefits in terms of the money flows and increased trade. Now to relieve them of their obligations on the nuclear side would be concerning,” Flake said.

“I wouldn’t want to give Iran, basically, an easy way out, relieving them of their obligations on the nuclear side. Those are significant and they are complying,” he added.

Other Republicans are rooting for Trump to scrap the deal.

“I opposed this thing from the beginning. I oppose it now. Iran is like having a bad child in the classroom doing five bad things,” said Sen. Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE Senate takes symbolic shot at Trump tariffs GOP lawmaker presses Bolton to examine Obama administration's response to Russian cyberattacks MORE (R-Idaho), a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

He said the deal only addressed Iran’s nuclear program but not its support for terrorist groups, its development of a ballistic missile program that threatens Israel and other issues.

“You still got the bad child in the classroom doing four bad things,” Risch added. 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate gets to work in August — but many don’t show up Graham: Flynn should lose security clearance Press needs to restore its credibility on the FBI and Justice Department MORE (R-S.C.) says he supports ending the deal because it gives Iran, a Shiite Muslim nation, an advantage over regional Sunni rivals who are U.S. allies.

“How do you tell the Arabs that they can’t enrich and reprocess [uranium] and allow the Iranians? That’s why it’s a terrible deal,” he said.