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Hawkish Trump on Iran: ‘Nothing’s Off the Table’

White House looks for ‘Trump-state Democrats’ to back SCOTUS pick

Vice President Mike Pence, far right, delivers a ceremonious oath of office to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week in the Oval Office as Tillerson’s wife Renda St. Clair and President Donald Trump look on. (John T. Bennett/CQ Roll Call)
Vice President Mike Pence, far right, delivers a ceremonious oath of office to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week in the Oval Office as Tillerson’s wife Renda St. Clair and President Donald Trump look on. (John T. Bennett/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump continued touting his hard-nosed foreign policy on Thursday, “formally” telling Iran it is on notice before signaling he might consider military force against the country. 

The new commander in chief, twice in just seven hours, sent a message to Tehran just a day after his national security adviser put Iran “on notice.” Trump was asked by a reporter when a press pool was allowed into a meeting with Harley-Davidson executives if he has ruled out military force against Iran.

“Nothing’s off the table,” he responded.

[With Tweets, Trump Escalates Saber Rattling Toward Iran]

The administration on Wednesday suddenly began rattling the American saber toward Iran, citing its backing of Houthi forces in Yemen and a ballistic missile test the White House says violated a U.N. Security Council resolution.

The president used his personal Twitter account to say around 6:30 a.m. Thursday that Iran has been “formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile,” using all capital letters to possibly add weight to his words. Iranian leaders “should have been thankful for the terrible deal the U.S. made with them,” Trump tweeted.

“The important thing here is that we are communicating that Iranian behavior needs to be rethought by Tehran,” a senior administration official said Wednesday.

The rhetoric directed at Iran, often a campaign-trail talking point for Trump, is less of a surprise than revelations about another country that is suddenly on the president’s radar: Australia.

After reports surfaced about a tense phone call last Saturday between Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday addressed the controversy about a deal the Obama administration struck, for the U.S. to accept up to 2,000 refugees in Australian custody. While the U.S. will honor the agreement, the refugees will undergo “very, very extreme vetting process,” Spicer said, employing one of the administration’s catchphrases.

Minutes later, Trump addressed the issue.

“I love Australia as a country but we had a problem … for whatever reason,” the president said, adding he likely would accept more than a thousand of the individuals into the country.

[Bannon’s Power Spawns Fears of Frozen-Out Congress]

But Trump let his displeasure show, saying he asked his aides a simple question about the arrangement: “Why?”

“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “[The] previous administration does something, you have to respect that, but you can also say, ‘Why are we doing this?’”

The situation was so alarming to foreign policy hands that Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona felt compelled to call the Australian ambassador to the United States to reassure a key ally.

‘Trump-State Democrats’

The Republican White House also took the, so far, rare step of agreeing with a Democratic lawmaker, Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia. Manchin said this week he believes Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Judge Neil Gorsuch, should garner enough support from Senate Democrats to clear a 60-vote threshold to move to a final up-or-down vote.

“I’ll agree with the senator there on that one,” Spicer said. “I mean, we have to have a few Trump-state Democrats who want to win re-election.”

Some Democrats are vowing to hold up Gorsuch’s nomination due to concerns over his stances on several issues and his past rulings in religious freedom cases. Others are still seething about how Senate Republicans treated former President Barack Obama’s last high court pick, Judge Merrick Garland.

GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a sometimes-Trump critic, told reporters in the White House on Tuesday night, shortly after the president revealed Gorsuch as his pick, that he believes Democrats will ultimately stand down.

“Of the three [finalists] that were mentioned, Gorsuch is the one that we’ll find it easiest to get bipartisan support on,” Flake said. “I think they’ll hold fire for a more controversial nominee.”

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