As President Obama prepared to make his final State of the Union address, news came that Iran had seized 10 American sailors after their gunboats entered contested waters in the Persian Gulf.
The incident exploded in the news cycle but didn’t make the final draft of Obama’s speech.
Now conservative lawmakers are lambasting the president for omitting the action by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and blaming his nuclear deal with Iran for emboldening the Islamic regime.
At a Wednesday breakfast sponsored by The Heritage Foundation, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, questioned why Obama remained silent while “we’re in the middle of this terrible thing, with two of our ships captured by Iran.”
“It’s odd,” Lee told reporters, “that he came and didn’t even mention it. It was really, really strange.”
Iran released photos and video of the sailors with their hands on their heads before leaving their ships and also being fed by Iranian guards while in custody. One of the sailors is a woman, and she was pictured wearing a head cover.
Lee, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, refloated an idea first suggested by his colleague, Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.
On CNN’s “The Lead With Jake Tapper,” Gardner called the capture an “aggravated” incident and suggested that the White House “delay the State of the Union tonight to talk about what happened.”
The seizing of the U.S. sailors reopened military tensions with Iran. In December, two Iranian warships—known as fast inshore attack craft—fired missiles that landed within 1,500 yards of two U.S. ships.
The incident also comes on the heels of the Iranian nuclear agreement, a controversial deal that House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, says “boggles the mind.”
Wednesday’s news that Iran had freed the sailors prompted House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to tell CNN, “[T]his is proof that building a diplomatic relationship with Iran, at least in terms of the nuclear treaty, has served us well.”
Lee questioned that logic, asking why the nuclear agreement “didn’t prevent Iran from taking those ships into custody[.]”
“If it brought us all this goodwill,” Lee said, “why would this have happened in the first place? It’s also interesting that this happens just as we’re on the precipice of lifting sanctions on Iran. It’s strange.”