Capture Of US Boats Triggers GOP Storm Before State Of The Union

10 American sailors were in Iranian hands only hours before President Obama's last State of the Union address, giving his Republican adversaries new fodder with which to attack him

Jan 12, 2016 at 8:20 PM ET

The capture of two U.S. Navy patrol boats and their crew by Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf on Tuesday provided Republicans with a fresh burst of partisan fodder only hours before President Obama was to deliver his final State of the Union Address.

Ten American sailors were in Iranian hands Tuesday after one of the vessels reportedly experienced mechanical problems and allegedly drifted into Iranian territorial waters. The boats were moving between Kuwait and Bahrain during a routine training mission when U.S. commanders lost contact with them, the New York Times reported. Pentagon officials told reporters that the sailors would be returned “promptly,” though officials told NBC News that they aren’t expected to be released until around daybreak Wednesday.

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Their detention comes just days before the United States is supposed to unfreeze about $100 billion in Iranian assets as part of the controversial nuclear deal reached with Tehran—and less than two weeks after Iran fired rockets within 1,500 feet of a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz.

Republican lawmakers and presidential hopefuls quickly seized on Tuesday’s incident, claiming it represented yet another humiliation of the United States by Iran. They placed the blame squarely on Obama, who was expected to tout the Iran nuclear deal in his speech this evening.

“This is the latest manifestation of the weakness of Barack Obama, that every bad actor … views Obama as a laughingstock,” said Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush tweeted: “No more bargaining. Obama’s humiliatingly weak Iran policy is exposed again.”

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Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner even suggested that Obama should consider delaying his State of the Union address until members of Congress are briefed on the situation. “I think the White House needs to be honest and transparent as quickly as possible with the members of the Congress, the House and the Senate — perhaps that even means a delay to the start of the State of the Union tonight to talk about exactly what happened,” Gardner said on CNN.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest later said that the administration would brief Congress on the incident.