Republicans wary of US action on Iran

Republicans wary of US action on Iran
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans are counseling President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP congressman slams Trump over report that U.S. bombed former anti-ISIS coalition headquarters US to restore 'targeted assistance' to Central American countries after migration deal Trump says lawmakers should censure Schiff MORE to further analyze the attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities before responding, suggesting a wariness for U.S. military action against Iran.

“We’re not anywhere near that point,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischGOP warns Graham letter to Pelosi on impeachment could 'backfire' Trump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing GOP braces for impeachment brawl MORE (R-Idaho) said Tuesday when asked if he’d support a military strike. “We’re still in the analysis situation. The briefing book that’s been put together lays out the facts, and it’s only after the facts are looked at, analyzed, conclusions reached that decisions will be made.”

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The comments Tuesday came as the Trump administration provided senators a briefing book on the attacks to review inside a secure room in the Senate basement and as Vice President Pence briefed Republicans on the situation at their weekly caucus lunch.

Senators also expect a closed-door briefing as soon as Wednesday, though it has not been officially announced.

Trump over the weekend raised the prospect of a U.S. military response to attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure by tweeting that the United States was “locked and loaded” and only waiting for more information from the Saudis. He appeared to step back on Monday, telling reporters that he would “certainly like to avoid” war.

Saturday’s attacks on the Khurais oil field and Abqaiq oil processing plant have shut off half of the kingdom’s oil exports, or 5 percent of the world’s supply.

Administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoUS to restore 'targeted assistance' to Central American countries after migration deal Trump threat lacks teeth to block impeachment witnesses Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs MORE, have directly blamed Iran despite the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen taking responsibility.

Trump on Monday refrained from definitively blaming Iran, but said it was “certainly looking” like Iran was responsible.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told reporters traveling with him in London on Tuesday that the attack was not consistent with previous Houthi attacks in its complexity and precision.

U.S. Central Command is providing the Saudis with forensic expertise as they investigate, said Dunford, who downplayed the possibility of quick military action.

“The president has made it clear he is not looking to go to war,” Dunford said, according to The Washington Post. “Having said that, what we saw was an unacceptable act of aggression. There are a number of ways to deal with that.”

Pompeo departed Tuesday for a trip to Saudi Arabia to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the State Department said. The two are set to discuss the attack and “coordinate efforts to counter Iranian aggression in the region.”

Pence in an address at the Heritage Foundation echoed Trump’s “locked and loaded” remark.

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

Pence’s message to Republican senators later Tuesday was the need for the United States to “restore deterrence,” but he did not discuss military options, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCheney unveils Turkey sanctions legislation Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs War of words at the White House MORE (R-S.C.) told reporters afterward.

Graham has been advocating for a strike on Iranian oil refineries as a reciprocal response, arguing that Trump's decision to call off a strike in June after Iran shot down a U.S. drone because of concerns about casualties was interpreted by Tehran as weakness.

“Now it’s time to punch them in the face,” Graham said Tuesday. “I’m all for the analysis. Who likes war? Nobody. But you know, that’s what happened in the '20s and '30s, nobody wanted to do a damn thing about aggressive behavior coming from evil people. The Iranian regime is pure evil, and their aggressive behavior has no limits.”

Graham added the response should be a “regional approach,” while sidestepping a question on whether the United States should take the lead by saying he would see what Pompeo and military leaders suggest.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioChina's TikTok turns to former lawmakers to help with content moderation policies Hillicon Valley: Warren turns up heat in battle with Facebook | Instagram unveils new data privacy feature | Advocacy group seeks funding to write about Big Tech TikTok adds former lawmakers to help develop content moderation policies MORE (R-Fla.), meanwhile, said he would “potentially” support a U.S. military response.

“It depends about whether it’s part of an overall coherent strategy going forward,” Rubio continued. “I certainly support defending our assets in the region.”

Other Republicans were less inclined to back military action, even as they said the intelligence they reviewed shows Iran was most likely or definitely behind Saturday’s attacks.

“That’d be a good question for Saudi Arabia whether they’re at war with Iran, but they didn’t attack us,” said Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulCheney unveils Turkey sanctions legislation CNN catches heat for asking candidates about Ellen, Bush friendship at debate Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump isolated amid Syria furor | Pompeo, Pence to visit Turkey in push for ceasefire | Turkish troops advance in Syria | Graham throws support behind Trump's sanctions MORE (R-Ky.), who has been fighting hawkish Republicans recently over who aligns more with Trump.

Paul stressed the situation should be thoroughly investigated to determine whether responsibility lies with the Iranian government or a proxy group that acts more independently.

“There’s a lot of questions to ask, and I think we need to see how the investigation goes. Even Saudi Arabia says they’re still investigating it,” he added.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSondland could provide more clues on Ukraine controversy 10 top Republicans who continue to deny the undeniable GOP braces for impeachment brawl MORE (R-Wis.) said that while the intelligence is “pretty convincing” that Iran is responsible, “let’s verify that and then we’ll talk” about a response. Still, he added later the United States “certainly can’t take” military action “off the table.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate confirms Trump's Air Force secretary pick The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump declares 'case closed' as text messages raise new questions Top House Democrat: Trump did 'on camera' what Romney warned about MORE (R-Okla.) said he thinks Iran “did it,” but he wasn’t ready to support military action ahead of Trump making a decision on how to respond.

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyWar of words at the White House GOP warns Graham letter to Pelosi on impeachment could 'backfire' Club for Growth to run ads in Utah attacking Romney as 'Democrat secret asset' MORE (R-Utah), who said Iran was “very likely” behind the attack, argued it should be Saudi Arabia’s responsibility to respond.

“The right military response would come from Saudi Arabia,” Romney said. “If we were to play a role, I hope it would be a nonkinetic role. I do not think our military should be involved in kinetic activity at this stage, but look to Saudi Arabia to defend their own nation.”