Bannon, Priebus Meet With Australian Ambassador After Refugee Agreement Flap

The visit follows a call between Trump and the Australian prime minister.

ByBENJAMIN SIEGEL
February 02, 2017, 8:00 PM

— -- The Australian ambassador to the United States met with Donald Trump's chief of staff, Reince Priebus and chief strategist, Steve Bannon, at the White House today, after the president criticized a refugee resettlement agreement between the United States and Australia.

In a statement, a White House official said the meeting with Ambassador Joe Hockey was "productive."

"They conveyed the President's deep admiration for the Australian people," the official said.

Late Wednesday night, Trump blasted an Obama-era agreement between the U.S. and Australia for the United States to take in refugees detained on two Pacific islands, calling it a "dumb deal" after the Washington Post reported that Trump questioned the agreement in a phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over the weekend.

According to the Post, Trump told the Australian leader the conversation was the "worst call" with a world leader of Trump's day.

In a speech Thursday, Trump told the audience at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington not to worry about "the tough phone calls I'm having."

In an interview Thursday, Turnbull said the call was "frank," and that it "concluded courteously."

White House spokesman Sean Spicer described the discussion between Trump and Turnbull as "very cordial," but said the president is "extremely, extremely upset" about the refugee deal.

"The president is unbelievably disappointed in the previous administrations deal that was made and how poorly it was crafted and the threat to national security it put the United States on," Spicer said.

After Trump appeared to shake up the relationship between the U.S. and one of its closest allies, lawmakers rushed to smooth over any lingering tensions.

At least five top members of Congress who regularly deal with Australia and military and intelligence cooperation spoke with Hockey Thursday.

"I called the Australian ambassador to re-enforce to him our commitment to Australia and our relationship," Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told ABC News.

“I know Prime Minister Turnbull was in my office a couple months ago. He's a very important ally. Australia is a very central ally, they are and they will continue to be,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, said in a news conference Thursday.

Others were critical of Trump's comments. Rep. Ed Royce, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement that Trump's comments about the "dumb" deal on Twitter were "not words I would have used."

"Australia is one of our closest allies, a critical partner in the fight against radical Islamist terrorism, and a source of freedom and stability in the increasingly volatile Asia-Pacific," he said.

"To the extent that politics is music probably the phone call was a little off key," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, told reporters.

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