President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Thursday.

President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Thursday. Credit: EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/Jim Lo Scalzo

Mideast muddle

On the same day that the Senate voted to block the administration from selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, President Donald Trump vaguely warned against aggression by Iran, the kingdom's rival for dominance in the Mideast.

The weapons resolution passed the GOP-run body, 53-45. Trump's veto is expected to prevail. The White House said stopping the sales "would send a message that the United States is abandoning its partners and allies at the very moment when threats to them are increasing." 

But the public rebuke from Congress clashed with Trump's Iran posture.

Trump, who sides avidly with the Saudis in their power rivalry with Iran, said Thursday he believed Iran’s attack on a U.S. military drone was unintentional and likely orchestrated by a “loose and stupid” lower-ranking official. Earlier in the day, he tweeted that "Iran made a very big mistake" — which sounded like a warning he'd use force.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump then stopped short of answering how his administration planned to respond to the strike of the unmanned aircraft over the Strait of Hormuz late Wednesday, Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez reports.

“This is a new wrinkle,” Trump said in the Oval Office. “This is a new fly in the ointment … and this country will not stand for it, that I can tell you.” But he also reached for deflection phrases. "We'll see," he said. "It's all going to work out."

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in a tweet claimed the American drone was in Iranian airspace when it was shot down and he accused the U.S. of “lying about (its being in) international waters...We don't seek war, but will zealously defend our skies, land & waters,” Zarif tweeted.

Competitive Biden 

Here's one sign that former Vice President Joe Biden is taken more seriously as a candidate than most other Democrats in the field: He's pursued with questions that he avoids answering.

ABC News did a probing piece on how his son Hunter conducted business in foreign countries such as Ukraine and China — just after Biden as vice president had been conducting diplomatic work there. Says the network: "Biden avoided questions about his son while his staff blocked reporters from approaching the candidate." 

Biden meanwhile doubled down on comments he made about having been able to work constructively in Congress decades ago even with hardened segregationists. To a demand from his party rival Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), for an apology, Biden in turn asked for one from Booker. 

Shifting to offense, Biden declared: "President Trump's Iran strategy is a self-inflicted disaster. Two of America's vital interests in the Middle East are preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and securing a stable energy supply through the Strait of Hormuz. Trump is failing on both counts.”

New glimmers of Hope 

Trump's longtime confidante Hope Hicks declined Wednesday on the advice of White House counsel to answer basic questions about her former job there when she appeared before the House Judiciary Committee, members said.

But there's a follow-up: Chairman Jerry Nadler noted that Hicks did indicate that Trump was serious when he said he saw nothing wrong with receiving derogatory information about political opponents from a foreign government.

“Ms. Hicks made clear that she understood the president to be serious when he said that he would accept foreign interference in our elections,” Nadler said. “She also made clear that even she knew that such foreign assistance should be rejected and reported to the FBI."

Odds and ends

Part of Hicks' statement, more precisely, was that she'd report it "if I felt it was legitimate enough to have our law enforcement dedicate their time to it, sure" and that she wouldn't want to have accepted and failed to report something like the controversial Steele dossier.

transcript released Thursday also shows that before the line of questioning was cut off by a Trump lawyer, Hicks was asked about Trump's ordering former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to urge then Attorney General Jeff Sessions to unrecuse himself from the Russia investigation.

Hicks called it "odd" but not "concerning."

She also said campaign officials felt "relief" when WikiLeaks posted stolen materials from Hillary Clinton's camp. Hicks’s lawyer acknowledged the Republican National Committee is paying her legal bills.

What else is happening:

  • Trump's awarding a Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist Arthur Laffer drew condemnation of his "Laffer curve" as a crackpot scheme to justify massive tax cuts.
  • Roger Stone’s recent social media posts violate a gag order and may require him to be jailed, federal prosecutors argued in a new motion.
  • Republicans in Alabama are trying to keep accused sexual predator Roy Moore off the general-election ballot for Senate.
  • Paul Whelan, an American held in Russia since December on spying charges, appealed to Trump to "keep America great" by helping him, saying he is the victim of "an absurd political kidnapping."
  • Trump's proposed new NAFTA is unlikely to be approved by summer.
  • After meeting with Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump said: “Anything I can do to help Canada, I will be doing."
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