Congress reacts to US assassination of Iranian general

The Pentagon’s announcement that U.S. forces conducted a strike killing one of Iran’s top generals sparked a firestorm on Capitol Hill, with many members of Congress praising the move and others warning of unintended consequences. 

The avalanche of reactions came after the Defense Department said in a statement it had conducted an airstrike on Baghdad International Airport to kill Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

Soleimani helped direct Tehran’s proxies across the region and is believed to be responsible for several attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq conducted by Iranian-backed militias. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The Pentagon said Soleimani was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region” and was “responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.”

President TrumpDonald TrumpCuban embassy in Paris attacked by gasoline bombs Trump Jr. inches past DeSantis as most popular GOP figure in new poll: Axios Trump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race MORE’s allies on Capitol Hill rushed to praise the operation, saying the killing sent a strong message to Iran and could be a strong deterrent to Iranian proxies in Iraq. 

“Wow — the price of killing and injuring Americans has just gone up drastically. Major blow to Iranian regime that has American blood on its hands. Soleimani was one of the most ruthless and vicious members of the Ayatollah's regime. He had American blood on his hands,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP sees debt ceiling as its leverage against Biden DACA court ruling puts weight of immigration reform on Democrats Senate braces for a nasty debt ceiling fight MORE (R-S.C.), a prominent foreign policy hawk who often speaks with the White House, said in a series of tweets. 

“The defensive actions the U.S. has taken against #Iran & its proxies are consistent with clear warnings they have received. They chose to ignore these warnings because they believed @POTUS was constrained from acting by our domestic political divisions. They badly miscalculated,” added Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP lawmakers request Cuba meeting with Biden Bipartisan congressional commission urges IOC to postpone, relocate Beijing Games Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill to hold platforms accountable for misinformation during health crises | Website outages hit Olympics, Amazon and major banks MORE (R-Fla.).

“Qassem Soleimani masterminded Iran’s reign of terror for decades, including the deaths of hundreds of Americans. Tonight, he got what he richly deserved, and all those American soldiers who died by his hand also got what they deserved: justice. America is safer now after Soleimani’s demise,” Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonEx-Rep. Abby Finkenauer running for Senate in Iowa Poll: Trump leads 2024 GOP primary trailed by Pence, DeSantis Republicans raise concerns about Olympians using digital yuan during Beijing Games MORE (R-Ark.) echoed.

ADVERTISEMENT

Some congressional Republicans who, at times, criticize Trump also backed the attack, saying the assassination was the right decision. 

“This is very simple: General Soleimani is dead because he was an evil bastard who murdered Americans. The President made the brave and right call, and Americans should be proud of our servicemembers who got the job done,” Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseSasse calls China's Xi a 'coward' after Apple Daily arrest Defunct newspaper's senior editor arrested in Hong Kong Murkowski: Trump has 'threatened to do a lot' to those who stand up to him MORE (R-Neb.) said in a statement. 

The strike against Soleimani, which also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of an Iran-backed militia in Iraq, could lead to further escalations in an already deteriorating situation in the Middle East.

The U.S. military struck an Iranian-backed militia group in Iraq on Sunday after a rocket attack Friday killed a U.S. contractor and wounded four U.S. troops. The Trump administration blamed the attack on this group.  

The militia and its supporters responded by storming the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday, prompting the U.S. military to deploy 100 Marines as reinforcements at the embassy and 750 more troops to the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Some Democrats expressed concerns that the killing of Tehran’s top general could lead to a fiercer beating of the war drums in Iran and could put American interests in the Middle East at risk.

Sen. Tom UdallTom UdallOvernight Defense: Milley reportedly warned Trump against Iran strikes | Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer killed in Afghanistan | 70 percent of active-duty military at least partially vaccinated Biden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Senate Democrats befuddled by Joe Manchin MORE (D-N.M.) said the escalation was "putting U.S. forces and citizens in danger and very possibly sinking us into another disastrous war in the Middle East that the American people are not asking for and do not support.”

“I urge members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to show courage on this issue, and I urge the Trump administration to change course and pursue diplomacy before we are entangled in yet another war in the Middle East with no end in sight,” he added in a statement.

“[Qassem Soleimani] was an enemy of the United States with American blood on his hands. But the question we’ve grappled with for years in Iraq was how to kill more terrorists than we create. That’s an open question tonight as we await Iran’s reaction to Donald Trump’s escalation, which could ignite a regional war, with still no strategy from the Administration,” said Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonOvernight Defense: Senate panel adds B to Biden's defense budget | House passes bill to streamline visa process for Afghans who helped US | Pentagon confirms 7 Colombians arrested in Haiti leader's killing had US training Business, labor groups teaming in high-speed rail push Here's what Congress is reading at the beach this summer MORE (D-Mass.), himself an Iraq War veteran.

Some Democrats also argued that Trump did not have the authority to order the strike without congressional approval.

“Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. That’s not a question,” Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats brace for slog on Biden's spending plan Overnight Defense: US launches another airstrike in Somalia | Amendment to expand Pentagon recusal period added to NDAA | No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia US launches second Somalia strike in week MORE (D-Conn.) tweeted. “The question is this — as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?” 

Republicans pushed back on the criticism, saying Trump had an obligation to respond to past attacks and prevent future assaults on American assets in the region. 

“Gen. Soleimani has killed hundreds and hundreds of Americans, and was actively plotting more. This commander-in-chief — any C-in-C. — has an obligation to defend America by killing this bastard,” Sasse said in response to Murphy’s statement.

While the debate raged in Washington over the effectiveness and legality on the killing of Soleimani, the Pentagon left the door open to future actions to deter Iranian attacks. 

“This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans,” the Defense Department said. “The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world.”