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SAUL LOEB

Key Republicans voice caution before Trump kills the Iran deal

Updated

Donald Trump is widely expected to scuttle the international nuclear agreement with Iran this afternoon, despite all of the pressure the president has received not to reject the effective diplomatic agreement. Indeed, just this morning, a new national CNN poll found that the American people, by more than a two-to-one margin, do not want to see the United States withdraw from the Iran deal.

But Trump isn’t just ignoring the judgment of his constituents. The Republican is also poised to ignore the recommendations of our British allies. And our French allies. And our German allies. And the beliefs of his own Defense secretary. And calls from national security experts from previous administrations.

But what is often overlooked is the fact that even congressional Republicans, nearly all of whom opposed the agreement when it was reached, have sent not-so-subtle signals to the president, counseling him not to withdraw from the deal.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is a very conservative congressman, from a very conservative district, who votes with Trump more than 97% of the time. But note what Thornberry said over the weekend when he talked to Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”

WALLACE: Should President Trump pull out of the Iran nuclear deal next Saturday, by next Saturday, even if the Europeans decide to stay in it and continue to do business with Tehran?

THORNBERRY: I would counsel against it. I was opposed to the Iran deal. I thought it was a bad deal…. But the key question is, OK, now we are where we are. What happens next if the U.S. pulls out? Secretary Mattis talked about the inspectors that are in there. Does Iran kick those inspectors out so that we lose what visibility we have there? The Europeans are not going to re-impose sanctions. So where does that leave us and Iran?

The Texas Republican went on to recommend Trump delay his decision and explore diplomatic alternatives with our international partners.

That followed related recommendations from Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who said he originally opposed the deal, but who nevertheless argued during a hearing in October, “As flawed as the deal is, I believe we must now enforce the hell out of it.”

It’s not just the House, either. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has argued, “I don’t think that we should relieve Iran of its obligations. They realize the benefits already of the sanctions relief. And now, to be in a position where they could get out from under the protocols under the agreement, that’s what I’m worried about.”

Yesterday, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) appeared on Hugh Hewitt’s conservative radio show and asked about a possible exit from the existing JCPOA agreement. The Tennessean also seemed reluctant to endorse the kill-the-deal policy preferred by some in the president’s orbit.

“When our country, even if it’s just the president, makes an agreement with our allies with another country, we ought to be very careful about changing that,” Alexander said. “Number two, the agreement we made, even though there were a lot of flaws with it, does give us a window into what Iran is doing and limits their development of nuclear weapons.”

He, too, added that he’d like to see Trump pursue diplomatic solutions “rather than getting out of the deal entirely.”

There’s literally nothing to suggest the American president cares about any of this guidance, even if it’s coming from his ostensible allies. But if Trump, as expected, withdraws from the Iran deal this afternoon, it won’t simply be the latest in a series of partisan disputes in which Republicans think one way and Democrats think another.

Trump may be indifferent to consensus, but on this issue, opposition to killing the agreement is bipartisan.