U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham talks to a reporter as he arrives at Capitol Hill in Washington U.S. on May 10, 2016.
Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Trump remains stuck between Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham

Updated

Politico reported a couple of weeks ago that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was playing golf with Donald Trump when the senator volunteered for a diplomatic mission. The idea, evidently, was for the Kentucky Republican to serve as some kind of emissary to Iran, a job that would entail a private discussion with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif during his trip to New York for U.N. meetings.

Asked about this, the American president initially said he didn’t “know anything about that,” but a day later, Trump seemed to confirm the reporting. “Rand asked me if he could [get] involved,” he told reporters, referring to Iran policy. “The answer is yes…. We’ll see what happens.”

The Daily Beast reported this morning that Rand Paul may not be the only GOP senator getting “involved” in the administration’s failing policy toward Iran.

President Trump wants a new deal with Iran to replace the nuclear agreement he pulled out of, and he’s turning to one of his most hawkish confidants to help do it.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is working in close coordination with senior Trump administration officials who focus on Middle East policy to find an alternative to the Obama administration’s Iran deal, four people with knowledge of the efforts tell The Daily Beast. Part of that effort includes fielding ideas from outside actors, including foreign officials, two of those sources said.

It’s worth emphasizing that this reporting hasn’t been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News. That said, the South Carolina lawmaker didn’t exactly deny the story.

On the contrary, Graham spoke to The Daily Beast about his discussions with the president and Trump administration officials, explaining his recommendations.

Right off the bat, there’s the obvious concern about the senators’ competence and credibility in this area. For example, in 2015, during delicate international talks, both Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul signed onto their party’s infamous sabotage letter to Iran, urging Tehran not to trust the United States.

The GOP senators’ efforts failed, the agreement was reached, the policy worked exactly as intended – in the process, making the Republicans’ gambit look just a little worse.

But even putting that aside, there’s the curious matter of Trump getting guidance on Iran from Graham and Paul simultaneously.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, among Senate Republicans, it’s probably fair to say no two members are more dissimilar on foreign policy than Paul and Graham. The South Carolinian is a hawk who’s long demonstrated an eagerness to exercise the United States’ military might, while the Kentuckian is a libertarian who envisions a drastically reduced military presence abroad.

One would ordinarily expect a president, especially a Republican president, to side with one of these GOP lawmakers. Trump, however, seems to vacillate between them, depending on the day.

This was especially true late last year, when the president changed direction multiple times on the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. His reversals appeared to be driven, at least in part, on which of the two senators he’d spoken to last.

It was reminiscent of fictional characters, presented as having an angel on one shoulder and a demon on the other, each whispering in the protagonist’s ear – except in this case, there’s an amateur president, who has no consistent foreign policy vision of his own, listening to competing senators, both of whom should probably be ignored.

Now, a similar dynamic appears to be unfolding, with Trump seeking counsel from two Republican senators who completely disagree. Given how little the president understands foreign policy, it’s a recipe for ongoing confusion.

The Daily Beast’s report added that it’s unclear whether Trump might ask the two senators to work together on Iran policy. Asked if he’s coordinated with Paul on the issue, Graham chuckled and simply said, “No.” The South Carolinian went on to pause before telling the online outlet, in reference to Paul, “I’m not sure what he’s doing.”