Congress

Democrats respond with relief to Trump calling off Iran attack

The reaction was mixed, with some renewing objections to military engagement without prior congressional approval

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., leaves the Senate Democrats' policy lunch onOct. 10, 2018. Udall and Tim Kaine, D-Va., have been leading an effort to attach an amendment to the annual defense policy bill that would require Congress to vote to authorize the use of force before the administration can take military action against Iran. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic response varied Friday to President Donald Trump saying he called off an airstrike against Iran at the last minute, with some renewing their objections to military engagement with Iran without prior congressional approval and others approving of the pull back.

Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Tim Kaine, D-Va., have been leading an effort to attach an amendment to the annual defense policy bill that would require Congress to vote to authorize the use of force before the administration could take military action against Iran.

[Trump says he aborted strike against Iran because it wouldn’t have been ‘proportionate’]

Failing to take a vote in the Senate on a potential war with Iran would be a “total abdication of our constitutional duty,” Udall said Friday in a prepared statement.

“Our Iran policy is in chaos, careening towards war, and to change course the president should immediately fire John Bolton,” Udall continued, referring to Trump’s national security adviser, who has a long history of hawkish attitudes on Iran.

Accounts differed on how close the military was to carrying out strikes in response to Iran’s downing of a U.S. Navy surveillance drone earlier in the week.

Trump tweeted that he had called off strikes on three sites with 10 minutes to spare, but he later told NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” that he had asked his military advisers about potential casualties about 30 minutes before the planned strike was launched. They told him up to 150 Iranians could die in the strikes, he said.

[Drums of looming Iran war resound in Congress]

Planes were not in the air, he said, “but they would have pretty soon.”

“And I didn’t like it,” Trump said Friday in an interview slated to air Sunday. “I didn’t think it was proportionate.”

Republicans were largely silent to the news of Trump’s pull back from the brink. But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., tweeted that the larger question was Iran’s threat to start nuclear enrichment again. “I appreciate [Trump’s] desire to be measured and thoughtful when it comes to Iranian provocations,” Graham wrote. What will the world’s response be if Iran follows through on their threat to restart nuclear enrichment? I hope the United States will make this a Red Line.”

Democrats approve

Some Democrats who met with Trump on Thursday praised Trump for opting not to escalate an already tense situation.

Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he had brought up the importance of being careful during the Thursday White House meeting that came before Trump’s decision to pull back from the strike on Iran.

“Yesterday, I made the point twice in the meeting that we have to be very cautious because we could be entering into an escalatory situation, and I think that logic ultimately had some effect on the decision,” Reed told CQ Roll Call. “I think when you look at — as the president apparently did — the casualties that would have been produced by the attack versus [losing a drone without casualties], I think he made a calculation that that would not seem to be proportional and would have caused difficulties not just with the Iranians but with … our allies.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she was pleased with the president’s decision.

“I don’t know how imminent the strike was, you hear different things,” she told reporters Friday. “But, a strike of that amount of collateral damage would be very provocative, and I’m glad the president did not take that.”

But for others, the incident highlighted how easily the situation could have put the two nations on a course for war.

“Whoever at the Pentagon or the White House advised the president that a proportional and limited response to the downing of a drone is 150 lives is either dumb, reckless or purposely trying to start a war,” Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., tweeted Friday.

Gallego, an Armed Services Committee member and Iraq War veteran, later added that war “should always be a last resort, and war with Iran is no different.”

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., took to Twitter to express his incredulity. “The idea that an American president didn’t bother to ask about civilian casualties before ordering a massive military strike, getting around to it only 600 seconds before the attack was to begin, is mind boggling,” Murphy tweeted. “Don’t let this ever feel normal.”

Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., offered an alternative to launching a missile strike.

“I’d respond to Iran by turning off the power in the grid in the southern part of the country where the Iranian missile system is based,” said Moulton, a member of the Armed Services Committee who is also running for president. “You’d hear news of rolling blackouts in Iran; so would China, Russia, North Korea and others who are watching. Unfortunately, we have a weak and indecisive commander-in-chief with no strategy, and while some in our country may not believe that, our adversaries know it.”  

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