On Capitol Hill, Lawmakers Brace For What’s Next After Killing of Iran’s Top General

January 4, 2020 by Dan McCue
A woman clenches her fist as she chants slogan while a man holds an anti-Israeli placard during a demonstration over the U.S. airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 3, 2020. Iran has vowed "harsh retaliation" for the U.S. airstrike near Baghdad's airport that killed Tehran's top general and the architect of its interventions across the Middle East, as tensions soared in the wake of the targeted killing. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

WASHINGTON – The killing of Iran’s top general in a U.S. airstrike in Iraq sent shockwaves across the Middle East, and inspired statements of grim anticipation among lawmakers on Capitol Hill as they await a response by Iran and further information from the White House on the particulars behind the strike.

The dead general, Qassem Soleimani, was a towering figure in Iran who mobilized heavily-armed militias across the region against the U.S. and its allies, extending Iran’s influence to the Mediterranean.

His death is a major blow to those efforts, and Iran and its allies in the region have vowed to retaliate, stoking fears Soleimani’s demise is a prelude to all-out war.

Although relatively unknown in Iran until the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Soleimani’s mystique grew after American officials called for his killing.

A decade and a half later, Soleimani had become Iran’s most recognizable battlefield commander, ignoring calls to enter politics but amassing ever-growing power.

 “The warfront is mankind’s lost paradise,” Soleimani said in a 2009 interview. “One type of paradise that is portrayed for mankind is streams, beautiful nymphs and greeneries. But there is another kind of paradise. … The warfront was the lost paradise of the human beings, indeed.”

On Friday, Hessameddin Ashena, an adviser to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, took to social media to say that “Trump, through his gamble, has dragged the U.S. into the most dangerous situation in the region. Whoever put his foot beyond the red line should be ready to face its consequences.”

Below is a compilation of responses to the fast moving events from Capitol Hill to the presidential campaign trail.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Sen. McConnell, R-Ky. said on the Senate floor Friday that he is working to set up a closed-door briefing for all senators on the air strike “early next week.”

He also said that staff is starting to get briefed by the administration and that he has already spoken to Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

Speaking more broadly on the day’s events, the Majority Leader said “this morning, Iran’s master terrorist is dead.”

“No man alive was more directly responsible for the deaths of more American service members than Qasem Soleimani. … for too long, this evil man operated without constraint and countless innocents have suffered for it. Now, his terrorist leadership has ended.”

“Although I anticipate and welcome a debate about America’s interest in foreign policy in the Middle East, I recommend that all senators wait to review the facts and hear from the administration before passing much public comment on this operation and its potential consequences.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer

Sen. Schumer, D-N.Y., followed McConnell on the Senate floor, beginning his remarks by saying “no one should shed a tear” over Soleimani’s death.

However, he said, the operation against Soleimani was conducted without specific authorization or any advance notice or consultation with Congress.

“I’m a member of the gang of eight, which is typically briefed in advance of operations of this level of significance. We were not,” Schumer said. “The need of advanced consultation and transparency with Congress was put in the Constitution for a reason, because the lack of such consultation and transparency with Congress can lead to hasty and ill-considered decisions.

“When the security of the nation is at stake, decisions must not be made in a vacuum. The framers of the Constitution gave war powers to the legislature and made the executive the Commander in Chief for the precise reason of forcing the two branches of government to consult with one another when it came to matters of war and peace.”

Schumer went on to say that seeking an outside view when making momentous decisions is the only way to prevent groupthink and rash action. A president considering military action needs to be asking “probing questions … not from your inner and often insulated circle, but from others, particularly Congress.”

“This action may well have brought our nation closer to another endless war, exactly the kind of endless war the president promised he would not drag us into.

“As our citizens and other of our allies evacuate Iraq and troops prepare for retaliatory action, Congress needs answers … from the administration immediately, and the American people need answers as well.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Speaker Pelosi, D-Calif., also expressed concern over the administration conducting the airstrike without consultation of Congress or an authorization for use of military force against Iran. She said it “risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence.”

“American leaders’ highest priority is to protect American lives and interests,” Pelosi said. “But we cannot put the lives of American servicemembers, diplomats and others further at risk by engaging in provocative and disproportionate actions. Tonight’s airstrike risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence.  America – and the world – cannot afford to have tensions escalate to the point of no return.

“The Administration has conducted tonight’s strikes in Iraq targeting high-level Iranian military officials and killing Iranian Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani without an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iran. Further, this action was taken without the consultation of the Congress.

“The full Congress must be immediately briefed on this serious situation and, on the next steps under consideration by the Administration, including the significant escalation of the deployment of additional troops to the region.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy

Rep. McCarthy, R-Calif., posted pictures of himself with the president at Mar-a-Lago purportedly as the air strike was underway.

“Last night was a memorable and historic evening at Mar-a-Lago — the Winter White House,” McCarthy said. “Proud of our President for taking decisive action!’

Later the Minority Leader added, “Soleimani was a terrorist. President Trump and our brave servicemembers just reminded Iran—and the world—that we will not let attacks against Americans go unpunished.”

House Leadership

Rep. Adam Schiff

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Friday he’d been briefed on the intelligence that led to President Trump’s decision to kill Iran’s General Qasem Soleimani. He added: “Although I cannot discuss any of the specifics of that briefing, I have several concerns about the increasing prospect of war with Iran.”

“There is no question that Soleimani played a leadership role in Iran’s malign and deadly activity throughout the region for decades<” Schiff said. “At the same time, his targeted killing and the U.S. airstrikes that killed Iran-aligned Iraqi militia members have sharply escalated tensions with, and are likely to prompt a response from, Iran. We have been on this path of escalation since the unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the Administration’s imposition of sanctions under the maximum pressure campaign, followed by Iranian led attacks on U.S. military facilities in Iraq, on shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, on oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, and other malevolent Iranian action.

“If the Administration had some broad strategic objective in mind or was acting in concert with our allies and making progress towards modifying Iran’s belligerent behavior, Americans could have confidence that this latest U.S. strike would make us safer.  But if there is some broad strategy at work, the Administration has yet to articulate it. More ominously, it has yet to show that ‘maximum pressure’ is doing anything but prompting more dangerous and deadly responses from Iran and increasing the likelihood of full-fledged war.

“The Administration owes Congress and the American people answers.,” Schiff continued.

“Why was the decision to kill Soleimani made now, when prior Administrations of both parties considered the risk of escalation to outweigh the benefits? What is the broader strategic plan, and why hasn’t the Administration been able to persuade our allies of its merits? How does the Administration intend to deescalate and avoid a destructive conflict with Iran that is not in our interests? Will the Administration commit to coming to Congress to seek authorization before taking any further military action, which is likely to lead us into war?

“The full Congress must be immediately briefed by the Administration on these questions and on any next steps under consideration,” he said.

Rep. Richard Neal

Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the airstrike that killed Soleimani “was done without an Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iran or the consultation of Congress. That is simply unacceptable.”

Because of this, we are at a dangerous crossroads,” Neal continued. “The full Congress must be briefed immediately before any other action is taken or any additional troops enter the region. While our highest priority is to protect American lives, we cannot do it at the expense of our service members or those representing us overseas.”

Rep. Adam Smith

Rep. Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he has “grave concerns about the chain of events leading to the direct action that resulted in the death of Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force.

“I remain troubled about the impact this action will have on the safety and security of United States’ personnel and assets in the region. Rather than calming the strained tensions in the region, this action will only accelerate the cycle of violent escalation,” Smith said.

“I do not want an open war with Iran, and neither do the American people. However, the absence of a coherent strategy has strained an already tense relationship between Washington and Tehran,” he continued. “It appears that in lieu of a strategy, the Trump Administration has chosen military escalation.

“The Administration must clearly articulate how this action, and potential future actions, will protect U.S. global interests while ensuring the safety and security of our personnel in the region and worldwide. The American people deserve to know why President Trump has brought us to the brink of another war, and under what authority,” Smith said.

Members

Rep. John Katko

Rep. Katko, R-N.Y., a co-chairman of the Tuesday Group of moderate Republicans, told Syracuse.com  on Friday the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran’s top military commander was “necessary and justified” but he also warned that the United States must be prepared for the consequences.

Katko said Soleimani was “responsible for the deaths of countless soldiers and Americans and behind the recent assault on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, with imminent plans of future attacks in the region.”

But, he added, “with Tehran already vowing forceful revenge, there is no question this action will have consequences and the United States must be prepared.”

“We need a decisive strategy and, as a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, I recognize that we must be diligent in our efforts to bolster counterterrorism,” Katko said. “We must remain focused on keeping this country safe from retaliation – not only on the ground in the Middle East and here at home, but from potential cyberattacks against our nation.”

Rep. Stephanie Murphy

Rep. Murphy of Winter Park, Fla., is a former national security specialist at the Pentagon.

“Qassem Soleimani commanded a terrorist organization, had American blood on his hands, and caused violence and instability throughout the Middle East and around the globe. Soleimani met his just end, and the U.S. will never back down in the fight against terrorism.

“At the same time, I am concerned that the Administration does not have a clear strategy to deal with the potential short-term and long-term consequences of this strike, including possible retaliation against American citizens and allies. I urge the President to work with Congress to defend America and our interests.”

Rep. Fred Upton

Rep. Upton, R-Mich., and also a co-chair of the Tuesday Group, said via Twitter on Friday that “for some time now, Iran has been poking the bear and had to expect that there would be a consequence.”

“Qassem Soleimani was the ring leader responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. military officials and was likely planning more,” he said. “I look forward to learning more in briefings when I return to Washington from Michigan next week, but I support the President’s action thus far in taking Soleimani out.”

Rep. Will Hurd

Rep. Hurd, R-Texas, said to his colleagues who are condemning the president’s decision that “the Iranian regime is the culprit, not the victim.”

“They are still the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism and have killed hundreds of thousands, including U.S. troops and over 1,500 of their own people for peacefully protesting,” he said.

“Soleimani was the head of the most dangerous and well-armed terrorist organization in the world,” Hurd continued. “This was an appropriate response after the Iranian regime repeatedly escalated tensions, and it’s a significant blow to their ability to conduct future terrorist attacks.

“No one wants another war in the Middle East, but we can’t give the Iranian regime cover for further aggression. We must protect American lives and our shared interests with our Sunni Arab and Israeli partners and support the Iranian people in their quest for freedom.”

Rep. Anthony Brindisi

Rep. Brindisi, D-N.Y., is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

“Qasem Soleimani was responsible for death, destruction, and violence against hundreds of brave Americans and now he has been brought to justice,” Brindisi said.

“There are many questions that deserve answers with regards to the Administration’s plan for peace in the Middle East,” he continued. “Keeping our servicemembers safe and fostering stability in the region should be a top priority. Congress needs to execute its Constitutional responsibility and oversight of military operations. The Administration needs to present a clear plan that will protect America’s soldiers and our interests in the region. The American people and our brave men and women in uniform deserve that much.”

Rep. Josh Gottheimer

Rep. Gottheimer, a Democrat, represents New Jersey’s 5th Congressional District.

“Qassem Soleimani has the blood of countless Americans on his hands and is responsible for IRGC’s extreme violence throughout the region,” he said. “It is reported he was developing imminent plans to attack Americans, and I expect the Administration to brief Congress on their intelligence and long-term strategy.

“We must act deliberately to contain the threat posed by Iran. The Administration should continue to work with Congress, our allies, and the international community to better restrain Iran’s destabilizing and reckless conduct and harboring of terror in the region,” he added.

Sen. Lindsey Graham

Sen. Graham, R-S.C., often among the most vocal of Republicans in supporting President Trump, said “I appreciate President Trump’s bold action against Iranian aggression. To the Iranian government: if you want more, you will get more.”

Sen. James Inhofe

Sen. Inhofe, R-Okla., is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“America does not and should not seek war, but it will respond in kind to those who threaten our citizens, soldiers and friends — as the President has long promised,” he said. “De-escalation is preferable and possible — but only if our adversaries choose it.”

Sen. Mark Warner

Sen. Warner, D-Va., is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

“Qassem Soleimani was an enemy of the United States who was responsible for violence across the Middle East and the deaths of thousands of people, including hundreds of Americans. He should not be mourned,” the senator said.

“Presidential administrations of both parties have traditionally consulted with Congress before conducting strategically significant military actions, not only because it is constitutionally appropriate, and not only because doing so provides the opportunity to secure bipartisan congressional support – but also because that process allows for the airing of outside perspectives that might not otherwise be considered, and ensures that tough questions get answered,” Warner continued.

“This is a situation that could easily and quickly escalate even further, and it is not clear that the Trump Administration has a plan to prevent another catastrophic war in the Middle East. We need to be prepared for the long-term potential consequences of this action, which include: counter-attacks on U.S. troops and personnel in the region; substantial harm to the ongoing fight against the remnants of ISIS; and ultimately, the possibility of reduced U.S. influence in the region, further empowering our adversaries to the detriment of U.S. national security and our allies in the Middle East,” he said.

Presidential candidates

Former Vice President Joe Biden

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said, “No American will mourn Qassem Soleimani’s passing. He deserved to be brought to justice for his crimes against American troops and thousands of innocents throughout the region. He supported terror and sowed chaos.

“But none of that negates the fact this is a hugely escalatory move in an already dangerous region,” Biden added. “President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox and he owes the American people an explanation of the strategy and plan to keep safe our troops and embassy personnel, our people and our interests, both here at home and abroad, and our partners throughout the region and beyond.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar

Sen. Klobuchar, D-Minn., said while Qassem Soleimani was responsible for directing Iran’s destabilizing actions in Iraq, Syria, and throughout the Middle East, “the timing, manner and potential consequences of the Administration’s actions raise serious questions and concerns about an escalating conflict.

“Our immediate focus needs to be on ensuring all necessary security measures are taken to protect U.S. military and diplomatic personnel in Iraq and throughout the region,” she continued. “The Administration needs to fully consult with Congress on its decision-making, response plans, and strategy for preventing a wider conflict.”

Sen. Cory Booker

Sen. Booker responded to the unfolding events by saying “We have a president who has no strategic plan when it comes to Iran and has only made that region less stable and less safe.”

He later took issue with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s assertion that America is “absolutely” safe today after the killing of Soleimani.

When pressed by “Meet The Press” host Chuck Todd on possible Iranian retaliation on American citizens, Pompeo said “It may be that there’s a little noise here in the interim.”

Booker responded on Twitter, “Secretary Pompeo, this is as serious as it gets. American lives are in danger—that’s not ‘a little noise.’”

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., released a statement saying, “Trump’s dangerous escalation brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars.”

Mayor Pete Buttigieg

South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg said, The top priority of a Commander-in-Chief must be to protect Americans and our national security interests.”

“There is no question that Qassim Suleimani was a threat to that safety and security, and that he masterminded threats and attacks on Americans and our allies, leading to hundreds of deaths,” he said.”But there are serious questions about how this decision was made and whether we are prepared for the consequences.

“As a former military intelligence officer on the ground in Afghanistan, I was trained to ask the hard questions before acting. A Commander-in-Chief must do the same,” Buttigieg continued.

“Before engaging in military action that could destabilize an entire region, we must take a strategic, deliberate approach that includes consultation with Congress, our allies, and stakeholders in the Middle East. … Now we must deal with the consequences of this action, beginning with the immediate and very real dangers to American citizens in and out of uniform in the Middle East. We must prepare for the impact on regional stability, complex forms of retaliation, and the potential for escalation into war.”

Andrew Yang

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang tweeted: “War with Iran is the last thing we need and is not the will of the American people. We should be acting to de-escalate tensions and protect our people in the region.”

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