How 2020 Democratic Candidates Responded to Soleimani Killing: 'War With Iran Is the Last Thing We Need'

The Thursday evening airstrike ordered by President Donald Trump that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and two senior Iraqi militia officials brought immediate responses from members of Congress, as well as Democratic presidential candidates.

Republicans applauded Trump for his swift response after the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad by supporters of an Iran-backed militia, which came after the U.S. conducted airstrikes last weekend against facilities of the group. The Iran-tied militia was considered by the U.S. to be responsible for rocket attacks at a coalition airbase in northern Iraq that killed an American defense contractor and injured others.

However, Democrats were furious and concerned, and their anxiety was twofold. First, Trump neither sought congressional approval nor notified the Gang of Eight—a bipartisan group of senior lawmakers from both chambers—a courtesy that is typically extended by a president before such a consequential military operation. Secondly, Democrats said the severe escalation in tensions between the U.S. and Iran could put American personnel abroad in harm's way from retaliatory attacks or, worse, result in a new Middle East war.

Iran swiftly vowed to retaliate, with its foreign minister characterizing the attack on Twitter as "extremely dangerous & a foolish escalation" and the country's supreme leader warning that "harsh retaliation is waiting." But the strike was crucial in order to thwart "imminent threats to American lives," said the State Department, which issued a travel alert for U.S. citizens to "depart Iraq immediately." The Department of Defense said Soleimani was "actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region."

Here's how contenders in the Democratic field who are vying to unseat Trump have responded so far.

2020 Democrats react Trump killing Soleimani
In Lahore, Pakistan, on January 3, protesters shout slogans against the United States during a demonstration following the U.S. airstrike that killed top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in Iraq. Photo by ARIF ALI/AFP/Getty

Joe Biden

The former vice president said that while Soleimani was a terrible person who "supported terror and sowed chaos," in addition to committing "crimes against American troops and thousands of innocents throughout the region," he feared Trump's action could have grave consequences.

"The administration's statement says that its goal is to deter future attacks by Iran, but this action almost certainly will have the opposite effect," Biden said in a statement. "President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox."

Bernie Sanders

The independent Vermont senator highlighted his vote against the Iraq War under President George W. Bush and said he fears killing Soleimani puts the U.S. one step closer to another conflict in the region.

"Trump's dangerous escalation brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars," Sanders said in a statement on Twitter. "Trump promised to end endless wars, but this action puts us on the path to another one."

Elizabeth Warren

Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, branded Soleimani a "murderer" who was "responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans." However, like her Democratic colleagues, she called Trump's decision to kill the leader a "reckless move" that "escalates the situation with Iran and increases the likelihood of more deaths and new Middle East conflict."

Writing on Twitter, she added, "Our priority must be to avoid another costly war."

Andrew Yang

In a series of tweets, the entrepreneur vowed to "end the Forever Wars" in the Middle East region and to repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), a law that was passed after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Presidents since then have used the Bush-era law as the legal basis to conduct military action in the Middle East without approval from Congress.

"Our Constitution says that it is the power of Congress to declare war. I would repeal the AUMF and restore the historical balance between Congress and the Executive branch concerning military action," Yang wrote. "This decision highlights the need to get Donald Trump out of office.... War with Iran is the last thing we need and is not the will of the American people."

Tulsi Gabbard

The Hawaii congresswoman went on Fox News Friday morning to voice her disapproval of the airstrike. She accused the president of violating the Constitution by not seeking congressional approval.

"This was very clearly an act of war by this president without any kind of authorization or declaration of war from Congress, clearly violating the Constitution," Gabbard said. "It further escalates this tit for tat that's going on and on and on, will elicit a very serious response from Iran, and [pushes] us deeper and deeper into this quagmire. And it really begs the question: For what? What are we trying to accomplish? What is the end state and the goal here?"

Gabbard is an Iraq War veteran who has centered much of her campaign on her opposition to "regime change wars" and is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Pete Buttigieg

So far, no public statements have been issued by the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor. His campaign did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment. Buttigieg served as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve and was deployed to Afghanistan for six months.