'It's a spiral now': Democrats say they're not surprised by Iran attack

Tuesday's attack on a U.S. military base in Iraq quickly sent shock waves through the Capitol, where lawmakers were scrambling to learn the details and formulate a response.

But even in the earliest stages of the breaking story, Democrats were in agreement on at least one element of the attack: It was not a surprise.

Rather, the Democrats said the strikes were the all-but-inevitable response to President TrumpDonald John TrumpCensus Bureau intends to wrap up count on Oct. 5 despite judge's order Top House Republican calls for probe of source of NYT Trump tax documents New Yorkers report receiving ballots with wrong name, voter addresses MORE's decision last week to kill a top Iranian official in Baghdad — an attack that has prompted a backlash from Democrats accusing Trump of escalating hostilities with Tehran without a strategy for managing the fallout.

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"One action creates another reaction, unfortunately," said Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean Lee20 years later, the FDA must lift restrictions on medication abortion care Ending the Hyde Amendment is no longer on the backburner Overnight Defense: Nearly 500 former national security officials formally back Biden | 40 groups call on House panel to investigate Pentagon's use of coronavirus funds MORE (D-Calif.), a longtime anti-war activist. "We're just getting the news now, so we need to figure out what's going on. But I think everyone expected some unfortunate retaliation."

Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThe House's stake in filibuster reform Centrist Democrats got their COVID bill, now they want a vote House to vote on resolution affirming peaceful transition of power MORE (D-Md.), the House majority leader, delivered a similar assessment as he left a closed-door meeting of Democrats in the Capitol basement. It was in the midst of that meeting that Democrats learned the news of the latest strike, after Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiAirline industry applauds Democrats for including aid in coronavirus relief package Democrats unveil scaled-down .2T coronavirus relief package Trump tax reveal roils presidential race MORE (D-Calif.) was given a note and informed the rest of the group.  

"I think there was not surprise in the room," Hoyer said. "No one ought to be surprised that if you attack a significant figure in another country — not in that country, but in Iraq, attacking Iranians" — that the other country would retaliate with force.

According to a statement issued by the the Pentagon, Iran launched more than a dozen missiles Tuesday evening targeting "at least" two Iraqi military bases where U.S. troops and their allies were present. No casualties were immediately reported.

The attacks appear to be in response to last Trump's decision last Thursday to launch a drone attack in Baghdad that killed Iranian commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Tehran's top security commander and a popular figure across Iran.

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Trump and his GOP allies have defended that decision, noting Soleimani's long and violent history of targeting U.S. troops in the region and warning that similar attacks were imminent.

Yet Democrats are wary of that argument, criticizing the president for not informing congressional leaders of either the Soleimani plan or a strategy to deflect any blowback from Iran.

Pelosi, roughly two hours after the latest missile strikes, blamed both Trump and Tehran for the heightened frictions.

"We must ensure the safety of our servicemembers, including ending needless provocations from the Administration and demanding that Iran cease its violence," Pelosi tweeted. "America & world cannot afford war."

Other Democrats went further, suggesting that Trump's strike on Soleimani made the retaliatory attack certain.

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"I think everyone knows when the attack occurred to expect some kind of unfortunate response. And we've always said that this does not enhance our national security; it doesn't protect our troops; it doesn't protect American citizens," Lee said. "It's a spiral now."

Hoyer was quick to condemn Soleimani and the violence he promoted.  

"Nobody laments the loss of Soleimani. He was a vicious terrorist, had caused a lot of loss of life, including Americans," Hoyer said.

"But we ought not to be surprised when you do that that there is a response," he added. "And whether or not there was thought, or whether or not there was a plan — a strategic plan — for how we're going to handle this, the bellicose threats that the president makes are not useful or hopeful to bringing some stability and peace."