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Sen. Risch says he watched Trump ‘agonize’ over Iran strike

President Trump caused a flurry by announcing he canceled a planned military strike on Iran only minutes before it was scheduled to occur. Will the U.S. will be seen as weak or indecisive as a result? Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, talks to Judy Woodruff about Trump’s “anguish” over the choice and what Risch hopes Iran will learn from the incident.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now, for the perspective of a Republican lawmaker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator James Risch of Idaho.

    Senator, thank you very much for joining us.

    What do you make of President Trump's decision first to call for a strike, and then to call it off yesterday on Iran?

  • Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho:

    Well, Judy, first of all, let me say that I watched the president agonize over this decision.

    I was at the table at the White House yesterday with a group of people. The military was represented there. Intelligence was represented there, and a broad spectrum of the political people from Congress were there.

    The president gave everybody an opportunity to express their opinions, to express their view of the upside and downside of all the various options that were there on the table. He listened carefully. He didn't take one side or the other.

    He anguished over this and was very concerned about, obviously, the human aspects of this, what happens when kinetic action is used, but also with his duty to defend America and present the front that America has to present when dealt with confrontation from malign forces.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ultimately, do you think he made the right decision?

  • Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho:

    Well, look, I'm not going to go there.

    What I'm going to say is, this is not a Republican or a Democrat decision. This is an American decision. And the person making — only one person can make that decision. That room was full of people, very high-ranking people, but there was only one person in that room that could make the decision.

    We need to all pray for him as he makes those kinds of decisions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you make, though, of the fact that it was at the last minute that the president asked about how many lives would be lost, and then decided to pull back?

  • Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho:

    You know, I think the president was very aware that there were lives lost. I think he was — when that decision — when that advice was given to him, I think he was a little taken aback that it was going to be 150 people.

    And I know what he was thinking about was the proportionality of the response, shooting down an unarmed drone vs. killing 150 people. I think, at that moment, that weight came to him, and that was a decision that, like I said, he had to make.

    Again, I hope the Iranians won't come away from this saying, oh, this guy is weak. They're dealing with — they're dealing with Donald Trump here. They not dealing with another president. And he is deeply committed to protecting this country, and he is not soft about it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So you don't think the United States comes out of this looking indecisive, or that the president looks indecisive?

  • Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho:

    I don't think the United States comes out of this looking indecisive at all.

    Out of all the countries on the face of the planet, there's no one more concerned about civilian casualties than — than America is. And I think that weighed heavily on the president as he made this decision.

    Look, there's going to be other things follow this, not necessarily kinetic, but that is responsive to what the — what the Iranians do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What will that be?

  • Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho:

    Well, look, the president's going to make that decision also, and I will leave that to him to make those announcements.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    When you say not necessarily kinetic, you may not necessarily the military.

    Do you think there should be a military response to their shooting down a drone?

  • Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho:

    The president has to make that decision.

    I sat and listened to the same things he listened to, and it is a very difficult decision. The question for him is, what is proportionate to shooting down an unarmed drone? Do you respond to that with kinetic action that causes injuries or death? He has to make that decision.

    And only he can make that decision.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, do you think it's realistic to expect Iran to be restrained, as the U.S. continues this so-called maximum pressure campaign under President Trump?

  • Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho:

    I don't know about the expectations for them to be restrained.

    What my expectation is, is that they would do what any reasonable human being would do. And that is say, look, we want national security. What's the best way to get there? Is it continue to go down the road to try to develop a nuclear weapon, to support terrorists all over the world, to violate the U.N. resolutions prohibiting from testing rockets?

    Is it better to go that way, or is it better to do what North Korea did and say, you know, there's a better path to follow? And if they think this thing through correctly, they will do themselves a great favor, and they will do their people a great favor.

    And they're — the Iranian people are just as much a victim of this as everyone in the world is.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Senator, quickly, with regard to North Korea, it's not clear, is it, that they have given up the nuclear path? Is it?

  • Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho:

    Well, they have done no more on nuclear testing.

    They have certainly stepped away from that. They have told us, they have told the Chinese, and they have told the world that their goal is to get to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. That's where we all want to get. That's not where we were 18 months ago.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator James Risch, we thank you very much.

  • Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho:

    Judy, good to be with you, as always.

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