GOP anxiety grows over Trump’s Iran decision

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump knocks BuzzFeed over Cohen report, points to Russia dossier DNC says it was targeted by Russian hackers after fall midterms BuzzFeed stands by Cohen report: Mueller should 'make clear what he's disputing' 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 PaulPressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal House Republicans call for moving State of the Union to Senate chamber GOP rep: 'Rand Paul is giving the president bad advice' on Afghanistan and Syria 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 CapitoOvernight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans Dems blast EPA nominee at confirmation hearing Republican senators skeptical of using national emergency for wall funding 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 SchumerTrump blasts Pelosi for wanting to leave country during shutdown The Senate should host the State of the Union Dem senators debate whether to retweet Cardi B video criticizing Trump over shutdown MORE (N.Y.) and House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiOn The Money: Trump teases 'major announcement' Saturday on shutdown | Fight with Dems intensifies | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking trip to Afghanistan | Mnuchin refuses to testify on shutdown impacts Ellen DeGeneres buys cheesecakes from furloughed federal workers who were baking to make ends meet Trump teases 'major announcement' about shutdown on Saturday 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 CorkerThe Memo: Romney moves stir worries in Trump World Senate GOP names first female members to Judiciary panel Former US special envoy to anti-ISIS coalition joins Stanford University as lecturer 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 FlakeSchumer recruiting top-notch candidate for McCain Senate seat The Hill's Morning Report — Trump eyes wall money options as shutdown hits 21 days Poll: Sanders most popular senator, Flake least 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 RischPressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal Congress poised to push back at Trump on Saudi Arabia, Syria Senate poised to rebut Trump on Syria 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 GrahamDems revive impeachment talk after latest Cohen bombshell Overnight Defense: Second Trump-Kim summit planned for next month | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking Afghanistan trip plans | Pentagon warns of climate threat to bases | Trump faces pressure to reconsider Syria exit Dem calls for Cohen to testify before Senate panel over explosive report 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.