White House

Trump chastises ally Lindsey Graham, teases Thursday ‘announcement’ on Iran

POTUS: ‘Ask Lindsey how did going into the Middle East, how did that work out?’

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., holds a press conference in the Capitol on March 25. He and President Trump are feuding over Iran. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday teased an “announcement” on Iran over its alleged missile strikes on Saudi oil facilities and chastised a leading Senate ally over the volatile matter.

Since the weekend attack took 6 percent of the world’s oil supply offline, the president has indicated his team sees Iran as responsible, tweeted that he has the U.S. military “locked and loaded,” but also said he does not want a shooting conflict with Tehran.

[Still confused about Trump’s demands of Congress? Maybe it’s you]

Asked in California, where he has been holding 2020 fundraisers and will tour a section of border barrier later Wednesday, if he has come to any conclusions about possible Iranian involvement, he replied: “Nothing to report yet. We’ll probably be speaking to you tomorrow.”

“But I think my thinking pretty much remains the same,” Trump said, according to a pool report filed by a reporter traveling with him. “We haven’t learned much that we didn’t know but there is a certain guarantee factor. We’re really at a point now where we know very much what happened.”

The remark was merely the latest example of the president vaguely suggesting Iran attacked the oil facilities but not feeling ready to say it in his characteristic blunt manner.

With a United Nations General Assembly session set for next week in New York, Trump was asked if he would allow Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and other officials onto U.S. soil.

“I would let them come,” he said hours after announcing new sanctions on Tehran. “I’ve always felt the United Nations is very important. ... I don’t think it’s ever lived up to the potential it has.”

Of course, the U.S. president has not “always” said that. He has mostly slammed such international institutions since stepping into the political realm; those bodies are antithetical to his “America first” governing and foreign policy philosophies.

‘Ask Lindsey’

His back-and-forth with reporters also brought his rhetorical sparring with Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, a hawkish South Carolina Republican who has become something of an unlikely congressional ally, into its second day.

Trump feuds with friends and foes often burn brightly for a few days, then are steamrolled into mere memories by new feuds.

“The measured response by President @realDonaldTrump regarding the shooting down of an American drone was clearly seen by the Iranian regime as a sign of weakness,” Graham tweeted on Tuesday.

The president fired back on Wednesday — his first public spoken rebuke of his sometimes-golfing partner.

“No, I actually think it’s a sign of strength. We have the strongest military in the world now. And I think it’s a great sign of strength,” Trump said, then criticizing Graham’s judgment on matters of war.

[Democrats object to Trump’s threatening Iran over Saudi oil attack]

“Ask Lindsey how did going into the Middle East, how did that work out? And how did going into Iraq work out?” he said. “So, we have a disagreement on that. And we have plenty of time to do some dastardly things.”

‘We’ll see what happens’

As he continued to vacillate between suggesting he will strike back at Iran militarily and calling for diplomacy, the commander in chief veered back to Graham-like hawkish talk before departing Los Angeles for San Diego.

“It’s very easy to start. We’ll see what happens,” he said, using a favorite verbal crutch that he drops when he appears conflicted about a next move. “We’ll see what happens. But we have a lot of capital. If we have to do something we’ll do it, without hesitation.”

His comments came several hours after a senior House Republican, Wyoming’s Liz Cheney, urged the president to launch a military strike to punish Iranian leaders.

“I think that the Iranians have demonstrated clearly and pretty consistently, that they are willing to take action like this. I think it is very significant escalation,” she told reporters. “And I also think that proportional military response is the right way to go. And I’m hopeful that Secretary [Mike] Pompeo is coordinating in that regard with the Saudis.”

“It’s got to be a response that is significant enough that it lets the Iranians know that this sort of attack on the global oil supply won’t be accepted. That it won’t go unanswered,” said the daughter of former Vice President Richard B. Cheney, a longtime proponent of U.S. military intervention.

Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.