Trump fires back at Graham over Iran criticism

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want NYT in the White House Veterans group backs lawsuits to halt Trump's use of military funding for border wall Schiff punches back after GOP censure resolution fails MORE on Tuesday night fired back at close ally Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOvernight Defense: Trump weighs leaving some troops in Syria to 'secure the oil' | US has pulled 2,000 troops from Afghanistan | Pelosi leads delegation to Afghanistan, Jordan US troops leaving Syria cross into Iraq Graham says he's open-minded on supporting impeachment: 'Sure, I mean show me something that is a crime' MORE after the South Carolina Republican criticized the president's past approach to Iran, arguing Tehran viewed it as a "sign of weakness."

"No Lindsey, it was a sign of strength that some people just don’t understand!" Trump tweeted after Graham earlier in the day called on the president to take more decisive action against Iran.

Trump administration officials have blamed Iran for the attack on two oil facilities in Saudi Arabia over the weekend.

Graham issued a statement Tuesday afternoon following a briefing from Vice President Pence on the attack, calling for decisive action and claiming Trump's response to Tehran's downing of a U.S. surveillance drone in June had been insufficient.

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Trump had authorized a military strike on Iran in response to the downing of the drone but said he called it back after learning there would be 150 casualties.

“It’s clear to me that such a sophisticated attack could not have occurred without Iran’s blessing and direct involvement,” Graham said of the attack on the oil sites.

“This is literally an act of war and the goal should be to restore deterrence against Iranian aggression which has clearly been lost,” Graham continued.

Graham applauded the administration for creating a regional coalition and briefing Congress but criticized Trump’s past response to drone incident for being insufficient.

“The measured response by President Trump regarding the shooting down of an American drone was clearly seen by the Iranian regime as a sign of weakness,” Graham said, adding it was “imperative” that the U.S. take decisive action to deter further Iranian aggression.

Trump on Monday responded to the attack by saying Iran was likely the culprit but that he was waiting on a final U.S. intelligence assessment. Trump also said he would like to avoid war with Tehran while simultaneously saying the U.S. is more prepared than any other nation for armed conflict.

His remarks suggested a softening of sorts, coming one day after the president said the U.S. was “locked and loaded” following the attack and awaiting final confirmation and direction from Saudi Arabia.

Still, Trump and Graham, who is also up for reelection in 2020, are seen as close allies and often play golf together. They have clashed on foreign policy issues in the past, such as the president’s effort to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

Pence echoed Trump’s comments during a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday morning, saying the U.S. would like to avoid war but that the administration was prepared to take “whatever action is necessary” to defend American allies.

“In the wake of this unprovoked attack, I promise you, we’re ready,” Pence said. “We’re locked and loaded, and we’re ready to defend the interests of our allies. Make no mistake about it.”

Trump, who is currently on a fundraising tour in California, has promised to release more details on the drone attack that shut down two major oil facilities in Saudi Arabia on Saturday. Iran has denied responsibility. The Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are backed by Tehran, have claimed responsibility.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoDiplomat who raised Ukraine concerns to testify in Trump impeachment probe Overnight Defense: Trump weighs leaving some troops in Syria to 'secure the oil' | US has pulled 2,000 troops from Afghanistan | Pelosi leads delegation to Afghanistan, Jordan Mulvaney faces uncertain future after public gaffes MORE is currently traveling to Saudi Arabia to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss the attack.

The two will “coordinate efforts to counter Iranian aggression in the region,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement Tuesday.