Trump made similar insinuations about Democrats’ trustworthiness after the October raid that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. At that time, Trump said he didn’t tell House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a former member of the Intelligence Committee, because “he wanted to make sure this kept secret.”
Trump ordered the U.S. drone strike that killed Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who the United States regarded as a war criminal responsible for hundreds of American deaths.
Republicans and Democrats were united in calling Soleimani an enemy of the United States and a terrorist — and none mourned his death.
“This morning, Iran’s master terrorist is dead,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in remarks on the Senate floor. “The architect and chief engineer for the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism has been removed from the battlefield at the hand of the United States military.”
Schumer called Soleimani a “notorious terrorist” and added that “no one should shed a tear over his death.”
But as Republicans celebrated what they described as Trump’s decisive action, Democrats criticized the president’s order to act unilaterally while expressing grave concern that this action would move the United States closer to an intractable war with Iran.
“No matter how good it may feel that Qasem Soleimani is no longer alive, he likely will end up being more dangerous to the United States, our troops, and our allies, as a martyr than as a living, breathing military adversary,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “There will be reprisals, and Iran will likely target American troops and even our own political and military leaders. This is why the United States does not assassinate leaders of foreign nations — in the end such action risks getting more, not less, Americans killed in the long run.”
Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said during an MSNBC appearance that as of 10 a.m. that he still had not been briefed on what prompted the strike.
“The question that has to be answered is, what brought us to this moment? What’s the intelligence behind that? And what comes now?” Menendez said. “I fear that this administration used tactics but has no strategy in the long term. … What we can’t accept is a march to an unauthorized war.”
Presidents typically inform the “Gang of Eight” — the House speaker and minority leader, the Senate majority and minority leaders, and the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees — on high-level military operations.
Top Democratic leaders in Congress received no advance notification of the strike, according to aides. Pelosi spoke to Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper after the attack for about 13 minutes, said an aide who was not authorized to speak publicly.
“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 in remarks on the Senate floor, adding that the administration must be “asked probing questions not from your inner and often insulated circle, but from others, particularly Congress, which forces an administration before it acts to answer very serious questions.”
It was unclear which congressional leaders were given advance notice of the strike.
McConnell said only that he had spoken to the defense secretary and was arranging a classified briefing for all senators early next week but provided no details on when he first learned about the strike.
But Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump ally, said Friday morning on Fox News that he was “briefed about the potential operation when I was down in Florida” and appreciated “being brought into the orbit.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) posted a photo on Instagram of himself and Trump at the president’s Mar-a-Lago estate late Thursday, though it’s not clear whether he, too, was briefed ahead of time.
McCarthy praised the killing of Soleimani as a “statement to those seeking to attack America.” Trump, McCarthy said, had responded appropriately to violence by Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, including the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
“In a display of resolve and strength, we struck the leader of those attacking our sovereign U.S. territories,” he said.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) said taking the action without “involving Congress raises serious legal problems and is an affront to Congress’s powers as a coequal branch of government. The law requires notification so the President can’t plunge the United States into ill-considered wars.”
But the top Republican on that panel, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), offered an opposing view, praising Trump for acting “decisively to protect our country, diplomats, service members and citizens.”
Most Democrats focused their ire on Trump’s unilateral action that they said could propel America into another conflict in the Middle East, yet Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) directed a more personal blow at Trump.
“The Occupant was JUST impeached for abuse of power for political gain & now he is leading us to the brink of war because he believes it will help his re-election. We are sick of endless wars. Congress has the sole authority to declare war and we must deescalate. #NoWarWithIran,” Pressley tweeted.
Many of Trump’s possible Democratic opponents in the presidential election also offered stern rebukes of Trump’s handling of foreign policy.
Calling Soleimani’s killing an assassination, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted that the United States was “on the brink of yet another war in the Middle East,” adding, “We’re here because a reckless president, his allies, and his administration have spent years pushing us here.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called it a “dangerous escalation,” and former vice president Joe Biden said in a statement that Trump “just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox.”
Former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, who was a Navy reservist, began a town hall in New Hampshire echoing many congressional Democrats who have wondered what the strategy is now.
“If we have learned nothing else from the Middle East in the last 20 years, it’s that taking out a bad guy is not a good idea unless you’re ready for what comes next,” Buttigieg said.
Sanders also began his Iowa town hall with a forceful condemnation of Trump’s action, and emphasized his long record of opposing many U.S. military interventions abroad, including the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
“It gives me no pleasure to tell you at this moment we face a similar crossroads fraught with danger,” he said, adding that Trump’s decision “now puts us on the path to another war, potentially one that could be even worse than before.”
Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly said Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is in Iowa. This post has been corrected.
Sean Sullivan in Iowa, Chelsea Janes in New Hampshire, and Robert Costa, Mike DeBonis, Seung Min Kim, Katie Mettler and John Wagner in Washington contributed to this report.