WASHINGTON — Louisiana Republicans in Congress are sticking by President Donald Trump amid escalating tensions with Iran, following classified briefings for the U.S. House and Senate on Wednesday.
“I’m convinced after hearing what I just heard that the president did the right thing,” said U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-Madisonville. “There’s no doubt in my mind that our military, the women and men serving this country overseas, were facing an imminent threat.”
Trump said Iran appears to be "standing down" after a tense week of conflict, but he vowed increased economic sanctions on the Middle East country and called on American allies to also address Iran's involvement in terrorism abroad.
“Iran has been the leading sponsor of terrorism, and their pursuit of nuclear weapons threatens the civilized world,” Trump said Wednesday in a public address from the White House. “Peace and stability cannot prevail in the Middle East as long as Iran continues to foment violence, unrest, hatred and war. The civilized world must send a clear and unified message to the Iranian regime: Your campaign of terror, murder, mayhem will not be tolerated any longer.”
At Trump’s direction, the United States killed Iran's most powerful general, Qassem Soleimani, last week in a drone strike in Baghdad. Trump and his allies have defended the attack as a response to terrorist activities and Soleimani's role in American deaths, but Iran struck back at the United States this week, firing ballistic missiles at two military bases in Iraq where American troops are stationed. No Americans were hurt, Trump said.
The retaliation and the Trump administration's decision to strike without consulting Congress has prompted outcry from some Democrats, including the lone Democrat in Louisiana's Congressional delegation.
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, of New Orleans, argued that the attack on a top Iranian general could have put American lives in danger.
“Make no mistake that Gen. Soleimani was a reprehensible man that neither myself nor my colleagues in the Democratic Party are mourning the loss of," he said. "Our concern lies in the administration’s reckless decision to proceed with such an act without congressional authorization."
He said he wasn't convinced by the briefing with military leaders.
"I did not hear or see anything after today’s briefings that justified the killing, nor did I hear a strategic plan for what happens after the strike," Richmond said. "This was clearly impulsive and not well thought out. We need strategic diplomacy, not senseless war.”
Still, Republicans have largely stood by the decision.
“How many more Americans did Soleimani need to kill before (Democrats) would have supported taking him out?" said U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson. “Is the world a safer place with Soleimani not in it? The clear answer is ‘yes.’”
U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Shreveport, said he also felt confident in the justifications he heard.
“I think, without revealing anything that’s classified, that the risk of inaction really outweighed taking action,” he said. “(Soleimani) was a terrorist, you might even call him a ‘mad man’… He targeted Americans; he targeted our allies … We have it on good authority he was planning more of that mayhem.”
Johnson and Kennedy both blamed politics for the divide between how Republicans and Democrats emerged from the classified presentations from the nation’s top military officers.
“Unfortunately, there is a lot of politics at play,” Johnson said. We all heard the same message. Unfortunately, some of the Democrats came out with a different interpretation of that message.”
Kennedy said Americans aren't seeking a war or regime change.
“What we want from Iran is simple: Stop trying to kill Americans. Stop trying to kill our friends," he said. "And you cannot have a nuclear weapon.”
Democrats have argued that the airstrike that killed Soleimani improperly sidestepped Congress.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, has said the Democrat-controlled House will take up a resolution this week to limit Trump's military actions against Iran.
"This action endangered our service members, diplomats and others by risking a serious escalation of tensions with Iran," Pelosi said in a statement Wednesday announcing her plans. "Since then, the president has made clear that he does not have a coherent strategy to keep the American people safe, achieve deescalation with Iran and ensure stability in the region."
Kennedy, declining to provide specific details because the information was classified, said he believes the circumstances required “swift action."
"Unilateral action was appropriate," he said. “They were plotting and planning attacks on the U.S.”