Republicans wary of US action on Iran

Republicans wary of US action on Iran
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans are counseling President TrumpDonald John TrumpSecret Service members who helped organize Pence Arizona trip test positive for COVID-19: report Trump administration planning pandemic office at the State Department: report Iran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report 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 RischRepublicans start bracing for shutdown fight in run-up to election GOP's Obama-era probes fuel Senate angst Democrat Paulette Jordan to face incumbent Jim Risch in Idaho Senate race 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.”

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 PompeoIran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report To support Hong Kong's freedom, remember America's revolution Senate passes sanctions bill targeting China over Hong Kong law 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 GrahamHillicon Valley: Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse | Trump administration awards tech group contract to build 'virtual' wall | Advocacy groups urge Congress to ban facial recognition technologies Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse The Hill's Campaign Report: The political heavyweights in Tuesday's primary fights 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 RubioTrump administration eyes new strategy on COVID-19 tests ACLU calls on Congress to approve COVID-19 testing for immigrants Republicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names 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 PaulGOP Arizona lawmaker says Fauci and Birx 'undermine' Trump's coronavirus response Fauci: 'We are not going in the right direction' FBI says Breonna Taylor case is 'top priority' for Louisville agents 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 JohnsonRepublicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday Senate Republicans defend Trump's response on Russian bounties 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 InhofeRepublicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names Senate rejects Paul proposal on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan Liberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP 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 RomneyRepublicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police Senators aim to limit Trump's ability to remove troops from Germany 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.”