Trump Responds To Iranian Missile Strike With Sanctions No casualties were reported after an Iranian missile strike on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq on Tuesday night.

On Wednesday morning, President Trump announced a new round economic sanctions against Iran in a televised address. He also called on NATO to become "much more involved in the Middle East process."

Meanwhile, the impeachment process trudges onward in the Senate.

This episode: congressional correspondent Susan Davis, White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez, congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell, and National Political Correspondent Mara Liasson.

Subscribe to the NPR Politics Podcast here.
Email the show at
Join the NPR Politics Podcast Facebook Group.
Subscribe to the NPR Politics Newsletter.
Find and support your local public radio station.
NPR logo

Trump Responds To Iranian Missile Strike With Sanctions

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Trump Responds To Iranian Missile Strike With Sanctions

Trump Responds To Iranian Missile Strike With Sanctions

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

BECCA: Hi, this is Becca (ph) from central Vermont. While I thoroughly enjoy all of your reporting, to this point, no one has made it into my subconscious, until last night, when I dreamt that I met and took a train ride with the amazing Mara Liasson. This podcast was recorded at...


2:38 p.m. on Wednesday, January 8.

BECCA: Please keep in mind things may have changed. Here's the show.


DAVIS: I think I need more details of what that dream was about.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Yes, I'm so looking forward to meeting her in my - in our dreams.



I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: I'm Franco Ordoñez. I cover the White House.

LIASSON: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.



DAVIS: President Trump addressed the country this morning, following Iran's attack last night on two U.S. military bases in Iraq.


TRUMP: Our great American forces are prepared for anything. Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.

DAVIS: Iran fired more than a dozen missiles, but the U.S. says there were no casualties and only minimal damage to the bases. But I'm not sure I understand how that action is standing down.

LIASSON: We don't know if they're standing down. Usually, Iran's retaliation for things like this happens sometimes months or even years after the initial event.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, I spoke with some officials from the Bush administration who led Middle East policy. And while it does appear that they are standing down for the moment, at least for domestic purposes, anyone who has watched and followed Iran is going to be very closely keeping tabs to see if some covert operations happen next.

DAVIS: But just a couple days ago, the president was saying if Iran retaliated for the decision to kill Qassem Soleimani, that the U.S. would respond again, that there would be retaliation. And yet, now he's taking this attack and saying, we're not going to do that.

LIASSON: This has been pretty standard for President Trump. He's gone back-and-forth. North Korea - it's fire and fury one day, love letters the next. With Iran, he didn't want regime change. He doesn't want war. He backed off of retaliating for a couple other things Iran did, sometimes at the last minute, when planes were just about to be in the air. And then he goes and kills General Soleimani. So I think there's a lot of mixed messages here. But for today, the president does not want to pursue this military conflict anymore.

ORDOÑEZ: Well, I mean, I think that's - you know, I think that's true. And I think that's why there was, you know, so much surprise from some groups that President Trump would direct U.S. forces to issue a strike on Soleimani. I mean, this was an issue that the Bush administration said, no, they were not going to do this. The Obama administration said, no, they were not going to do this. President Trump did it, despite saying repeatedly that he wanted to pull out of wars in the Middle East. He once even commented that John Bolton, if he had his way, we would be at war with Iran.

DAVIS: But a matter - as a matter of foreign policy or strategy, I just am still really unclear about what the Trump administration says their strategy is here. If the goal is to get Iran to the table - this is also an administration that walked away from the Iran deal, is still saying the whole thing should be scrapped and is intensifying confrontation with Iran. I guess, is the theory that this action toward Soleimani will get Iran to calm down?

LIASSON: The president's goal all along, as he's expressed it, has been to force Iran to come back to the negotiating table to get - to give him a better deal than the one that Obama worked out. Today he talked about putting even more sanctions on Iran. The maximum pressure campaign has really hurt Iran's economy, but it hasn't forced Iran to come to the negotiating table. The president seems to hope that even more sanctions after this military confrontation will do the trick.

ORDOÑEZ: And I just - I would just add, like, in comparison to - as what you were saying earlier, Sue - in comparison to how he was talking earlier about a disproportionate response to now say, I'm going to issue powerful - quote, "powerful economic sanctions" is much different because, frankly, Iran has been sanctioned so much, now...

LIASSON: What else is there left to sanction?

ORDOÑEZ: What else is there to sanction? And then he is also going to - and he already did this, actually - was speak to NATO - the secretary general, about NATO taking a increased role in security measures in the Middle East. You know, that speaks to in some ways - experts that I'm talking to about the U.S. trying to - continuing past campaign promises or push to kind of withdraw from Middle East.

LIASSON: Yeah, the president wants to force Iran to the negotiating table and withdraw from the Middle East. And he's asking NATO, which is a bunch of allies who totally disagree with him about pulling out of the nuclear deal - he's saying, why don't you take over here?

DAVIS: Yeah, that was one of the things that struck me about today is that now he's going to lean on NATO, an organization that he's been a critic of. But you do it after you've already made the critical decision, not before, which also seems like a weird strategy when it comes to foreign policy.

LIASSON: And he never briefed them in advanced. He didn't...

ORDOÑEZ: Critical decisions that they opposed.

DAVIS: Right.

LIASSON: Yes, and he didn't try to get the NATO allies to line up behind this decision to initiate military confrontation with Iran, however short-lived.

DAVIS: It's hard to say right now because we don't know how the country has absorbed all of this yet. But politically speaking, where does this leave Trump on the other end of this? Does he look stronger? Does the White House feel confident about what the president's done here?

LIASSON: Well, one of the things that Donald Trump prides himself on is fulfilling his campaign promises. And he made a couple of them. One was he was going to pull America out of the Middle East. And so far, he has removed troops from Syria and even talked about wanting to do so in Iraq but not right now - and also that he was tough, and he was going to go after bad guys and terrorists. So this allowed him to accomplish that. I think his base is going to be pretty happy. This was, at least so far, a pretty cost-free enterprise for the United States. And I think that's why it's a political win for the president.

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, that's what his speech was all about. He declared victory for this first round.


ORDOÑEZ: He said that Iran was standing down. We shall see about that. But essentially, he was able to kill this really bad guy, General Soleimani...

LIASSON: Right, right.

ORDOÑEZ: ...Take him out of the battlefield and, frankly, not suffer significantly anything in response in the strike last night.

LIASSON: Or have to send a lot of boots on the ground and get - involved people. Donald Trump's foreign policy is hawkish isolationism. In other words, a lot of Americans want to be tough and strong in the world, but they don't want to get involved in costly, endless wars. Remember, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton - everyone had a preference for airstrikes versus boots on the ground. And that's where the American people is, so that's why I think it's a political win for the president in the short term. In the long term, we don't know what else Iran was going to do. In the long term, the basic problem of Iran working towards a nuclear weapon is - has not gone away. But in the short term, I think he looks strong. His base is happy. What's unclear is if he's convinced any other voters to support him because of this.

DAVIS: Right. It also seems - it also depends on what happens.


DAVIS: If there is no further escalation with Iran, Trump might end up looking like he made the right decision.

LIASSON: Yeah. Yeah.

DAVIS: If there is escalation, which the White House doesn't seem like it has a - you know, a full plan for yet, then that's what the wild card is.

ORDOÑEZ: That's definitely the wild card.

LIASSON: Right. And if Iran decides that it wants to negotiate, it comes begging for mercy, then he turns out to be a genius.

DAVIS: All right. Franco, you've got more reporting to do, so we're going to let you go. Thanks so much.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you guys.

DAVIS: And we're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, the latest on impeachment.

And we're back. And we're joined now by congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Hey, Kelsey.


DAVIS: So Mitch McConnell...

SNELL: Yeah.

DAVIS: He's got the votes to proceed without Democrats on the format for the impeachment trial of President Trump. What is the latest?

SNELL: Well, the latest is that McConnell seems pretty darn confident that he can run a Senate trial just the way he wants to, which is to establish the rules upfront and get to the question of witnesses and evidence later. This is a pretty big benefit to Republicans because it means that if Democrats want to call witnesses, they'll have to do it individually, and it'll have to be up to a 51-vote threshold. And reminder - Democrats do not have 51 votes in the Senate. And they would have to convince four Republicans to join their cause if they want to call any individual witnesses to stand, which basically means that it would be really hard to get anybody to come testify in the Senate.

DAVIS: So McConnell wants this to play out essentially with the rough outlines of the Clinton impeachment trial and the rules of that. Can you sort of talk through what those rules were?

SNELL: Right. So McConnell says that this should be modeled very much on the Clinton impeachment trial, where the prosecution - so the House - presented their arguments. And then the defense, which would be the White House attorneys, would present their side of things. And then there would be an opportunity for senators to ask questions. And then they would move into a period where they would discuss witnesses and evidence.

Now, Democrats say there isn't really a good comparison here because during the Clinton trial, they were calling witnesses who had already testified in the House. And what they wanted to hear and - now with Trump is call a bunch of witnesses, four in particular - four administration officials, including Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, and John Bolton, the former national security adviser - who never testified in the House process. And they're saying that you can't compare a situation where you're hearing from people for a second time to a time when Democrats say they just were not given the opportunity to have the evidence that they need to make a judgment.

LIASSON: And they never testified 'cause the White House blocked them from testifying.

SNELL: Right.

DAVIS: Although John Bolton throws up a surprise notification this week and says, oh, hey, after all, if I am subpoenaed by the Senate, I'll come testify.

SNELL: Right. But going back to this idea that you would need 51 votes to send that subpoena - right? - so it would have to be Republicans agreeing that it's a good idea for Bolton, who has - what did he call this? - a drug deal? He called the Ukraine situation a drug deal. They would have to agree to call that person up to testify in an impeachment trial of a Republican president. That's a really big political ask.

LIASSON: So Kelsey, you're saying it's just pretty much wishful thinking that there are going to be four Republicans - people like Mitt Romney or Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski - who are going to suddenly decide they want to vote - should call witnesses.

SNELL: And you know, one or two of them might vote to say that, you know, Mick Mulvaney needs to come up. But it doesn't work if it's just one or two of them. It needs to be four of them. And I think what it says right now that McConnell is moving forward with his own set of rules is that he really believes that he can take control of the entirety of the trial, not just setting the ground rules for the beginning.

LIASSON: And there's nothing about Mitch McConnell's entire history that would suggest that he's wrong (laughter).

SNELL: He is quite good at counting votes.


SNELL: And I mean, we do know that he went around and took a fairly informal survey of where people were. And he has been making the case to members over this holiday break - you know, what the trial should and could look like under his direction.

DAVIS: But none of this can happen before Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, sends over the articles of impeachment. That's the process thing that has to happen to trigger the trial. And Pelosi is still not showing her hand on when she's going to send them over.

SNELL: Right. I mean, Sue, you and I were standing in the hallways talking to Democrats earlier today. They didn't even talk about impeachment, and we're sitting here waiting to find out when this trial will start.

DAVIS: Has Iran affected the calculations on impeachment?

SNELL: I mean, I would say for Democrats, they say that it hasn't, but it's hard to argue that it isn't distracting and taking up the political air that impeachment was inhabiting. I mean, Mara, you would know more about how the White House is viewing this.

LIASSON: Well, it certainly has taken the impeachment off the front pages. There's no doubt about that. There are some critics of the president who even suggested this was the whole purpose of the strike, which I don't think is necessarily correct. But the president himself even tweeted - he said, to be spending time on a hoax at this time in our history when I am so busy - you know, so busy confronting Iran, something of his own choosing. But I think that the Iran confrontation definitely sucks up some of the oxygen in the room.

The question is, even if there wasn't an Iran confrontation, we're entering the foregone conclusion part of this whole impeachment saga. I mean, is there any suspense in the Senate? At least in the House, we didn't know what these witnesses were going to say. But in the Senate, everyone expects the president to be acquitted.

DAVIS: Are we back on track when it comes to the timeline? The thing we've always said is they want to wrap this up before the Iowa caucuses in early February. Are we back to that point?

SNELL: I mean, if she does decide to send things over to the Senate sometime by the end of this week, sure, we could be on track for that. But at this point, we don't have any indication that that's what she's going to choose to do.

DAVIS: All right. Well, that's a wrap for today, but we'll be back tomorrow. Until then, keep up with all the latest updates by heading to, listening to your local public radio station or on the NPR One app.

I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

SNELL: I'm Kelsey Snell. I also cover Congress.

LIASSON: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

DAVIS: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.