Part 3: Congressional Reaction to Drone Attack

U.S. lawmakers have been divided over how to handle the downing of a U.S. drone by Iran on June 20. The split is largely along party lines. Democrats called for restraint from the Trump administration. Many were concerned that a military response could lead to a regional conflict. “The high tension wires are up in the region. We have to be strong and strategic in how we protect our interests. We cannot be reckless in what we do… I don't think the president wants to go to war. There's no appetite to go to war in our country,” said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). 

Republicans largely condemned Iran’s actions as unprovoked and blamed the regime for escalating tensions. Most GOP members called for military readiness to send a strong message to Tehran that Washington would not accept such behavior. “Last night, Iran shot down a U.S. drone that was in international airspace. Just one more reminder about the need for cutting-edge national defense and military readiness,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in a tweet.


On June 20, President Trump called off a retaliatory strike on Iran at the last minute. Democrats expressed concern that he had ordered a military strike without the approval of Congress. They condemned such an operation as unconstitutional and an unnecessary escalation. “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. Don’t let this ever feel normal,” said Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) in a tweet

Republicans largely praised Trump’s decision to call off the strikes and avoid a military confrontation. But they urged him to continue to take a firm stance toward Tehran. “I appreciate President @realDonaldTrump's desire to be measured and thoughtful when it comes to Iranian provocations. 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,” said Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in a tweet. The following are Congressional reactions to the downing of the drone and the aborted U.S. strikes.

Reaction to drone strike


Speaker of the House, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)

“The high tension wires are up in the region. We have to be strong and strategic in how we protect our interests. We cannot be reckless in what we do… I don't think the president wants to go to war. There's no appetite to go to war in our country.”
––June 20, 2019 in her weekly press conference


Senate Majority Leader, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY)


Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)


Bernie Sanders (D-VT)


Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)


Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA)


Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR)


Representative Joaquin Castro (D-TX)


Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA)


Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL)

“I am no cheerleader for war with Iran and neither is President Trump. President Trump ran as a different kind of Republican, one that wanted to end wars, not start them. And, I think that there are a lot of other global stakeholders that need to be involved in the Strait of Hormuz before we make the United States the global policeman in that area.”
––June 20, 2019 in an interview with The Hill


Representative Andy Levin (D-MN)


Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL)


Senator Tom Udall (D-NM)


Representative Steve Watkins (R-KS)

“Well, listen, obviously, kinetic action in the region is troublesome but what we really need to see is their enriched uranium program. If they continue to enrich Uranium, that will be a direct threat to our allies, including Israel. Bibi Netanyahu not going to let that go unnoticed. Now, also, another worrisome action would be if they were to continue to bomb tankers in the region, especially, particularly allies of ours.”

“We’re well-positioned militarily. We have the USS Abraham Lincoln, we have amphibious troops in the area, we have B-52 bombers, F-35s.”
––June 20, 2019 on Fox News


Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT)


Representative Mike Rogers (R-AL)


Senator Ed Markey (D-MA)

Reaction to aborted Iran strike


Representative Ruben Gallego (D-AZ)

"War should always be a last resort, and war with Iran is no different. That’s why it’s so troubling that we have come so close to it at the direction of some of the exact same people that led us to war in Iraq.

If the President doesn’t like the options he has before him, he only has himself to blame. It was his decision to pull out of the Iran deal without a clue about how to replace it. It was his decision to hire John Bolton, an architect of the failed Iraq War. And it was his decision to alienate and lie to our allies so that they don’t trust us.

The President needs to think about what war means. As an Iraq War veteran, I know it means death, pain, and suffering. It is his responsibility to those he sends into battle that they are sent because there is no other option. Who can honestly say that’s where we are now?

I urge the President in the strongest terms to pull back from his current course.”
––June 21, 2019 in a statement


Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY)

“The failure to respond to this kind of direct provocation that we’ve seen now from the Iranians, in particular over the last several weeks, could in fact be a very serious mistake.”

Leaders must “recognize that weakness is provocative, and that a world in which response to attacks on American assets is to pull back, or to accept the attack, is a world in which America won’t be able to successfully defend our interests.”

––June 21, 2019, in an interview with Hugh Hewitt


Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT)


Speaker of the House, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)

We are in an extremely dangerous and sensitive situation with Iran.  We must calibrate a response that de-escalates and advances American interests, and we must be clear as to what those interests are.

During our meeting with the President at the White House, Congressional Leaders stressed the necessity that we work with our allies and not strengthen the hand of Iran’s hardliners.

Democratic Leaders emphasized that hostilities must not be initiated without the approval of Congress.

We have no illusions about the dangerous conduct of the Iranian regime.  This is a dangerous, high-tension situation that requires a strong, smart and strategic approach.”
––June 21, 2019 in a statement


Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)


Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA)


Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) 


Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL)


Representative Max Rose (D-NY)

“Look, I commend the President for taking a step back. What we need right now is a policy of courageous restraint, one that is layered with strategy and defined objectives. What we do not need right now, and I cannot emphasize this enough, is another ‘John Bolton’ war…”
––June 21, 2019 on Morning Joe


Senator Chris Coons (D-DE)

“There have been achingly few consultations between the Administration and the Senate that laid out a strategy, that helped us understand what they view as the ‘red lines’ for escalation or for a military strike, or what the off ramps would be. At a time when our own military is still conducting, is still engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria, I just caution against our sliding into another war that might escalate beyond our control without really discussing and understanding the costs. I’m not sure that the American people are behind an escalating conflict with Iran. And, so, I’m encouraged if the Administration is acting cautiously in the face of provocation by Iran.”

––June 21, 2019 on CNBC Squawk Box


Senator Tom Udall (D-NM)


Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

“Dear President Trump,

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am deeply concerned that your administration’s stepped up military presence in the Middle East, in conjunction with your dangerous and confusing rhetoric, may lead the United States into a protracted, costly, and unnecessary war with Iran. Such a war is not authorized, would unnecessarily risk the lives of Americans and our allies, cause enormous human suffering, and destabilize the economy.

Iran is undoubtedly an adversary that engages in dangerous behavior and had a largely unrestrained nuclear program prior to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  But you must not ignore the Constitution and subvert democracy by waging a war that does not have the support of the American people, is not authorized by their representatives, and risks American lives.

When you were sworn in as President, you inherited an Iran whose nuclear weapons ambitions were verifiably constrained for a decade or more by international agreement. A diverse coalition of countries worked together to block Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon and install an intrusive inspection regime. Unfortunately, in part due to your ill-advised decision to abandon the JCPOA, Iran is now poised to breach certain limits in the deal by the end of the month. What is more, our closest allies in Europe -- frustrated by the unilateral, unjustified nature of the withdrawal from the JCPOA -- have sought to establish measures to work around U.S. sanctions. You have shattered the strong coalition aligned against Iran in 2015 that brought Iran to the negotiating table.

Against the backdrop of your Administration’s historic missteps, your and your administration’s problematic statements, and military escalation in the Gulf region, I am deeply concerned that the nation could be dragged into a war with Iran under your leadership. You have threatened “consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before.” Your national security advisor, John Bolton, known for being one of the advocates of the Iraq War, had reportedly ordered the Pentagon to develop an earlier plan for a 120,000 troop surge in the region.  He has also threatened "unrelenting force" against Iran. These statements, combined with recent deployments, raise the specter of a miscalculation and disproportionate response to Iranian aggression that could lead to another unnecessary war.

The country has been here before.  The U.S. began the Iraq War based on inaccurate information from John Bolton and others who claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.  They were mistaken then, at great cost to the nation. Eighteen years after going into Afghanistan, U.S. and allied troops are still there, despite your promise of withdrawal and long after completing their mission. And now your administration is reportedly considering using the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed in response to the attack on our homeland on 9/11, for a completely unrelated military action against Iran, which clearly would be outside the scope and intent of that law.

I demand that you not send U.S. armed forces into hostilities that are disproportionate and unnecessary to counter a direct attack or not authorized by Congress through a new AUMF.

I further urge that rather than embroil the U.S. in another war, you:

  1. a) Engage the international community in addressing the risks to navigation in the waterways close to Iran;
  2. b) Return the United States to the JCPOA if the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors continues to certify that Iran is in compliance with the agreement; and
  3. c) Require your administration officials to be clear that you are not advocating starting another war, which, this time, would be with an adversary that is better equipped than the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, or Bashar al-Assad’s forces.


Kirsten Gillibrand

United States Senator”
––June 20, 2019 in a letter to the President


Senator Rand Paul (R-KY)


Senator Ed Markey (D-MA)


Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT)

 Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA)


Representative Tom Cole (R-OK)

"If you're talking about responding to a series of Iranian attacks aimed at American assets and facilities, ... the War Powers Act gives him the ability to do that.”

––June 21, 2019, in a statement to The Hill 


Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA)

"This administration has been going out of its way to try to provoke Iran to go to war, and I don't have a lot of confidence in the national security team that surrounds this president, and I certainly don't have any confidence in Donald Trump's ability to keep us out of war."

"His statements and his views are erratic on this, and I think ... the American people want us to be able to make sure that he doesn't start a war on an impulse," 

––June 21, 2019, in a statement to The Hill


Representative Adam Smith (D-WA)

"He wasn't sure what the right thing to do was, and he was asking his advisers to help. It's obvious: He wants to discourage Iran from doing this kind of thing. ... He does not want this to escalate to the point where there is further conflict, loss of life and an acceleration of the conflict. So how do you do that? It's a very difficult."

"That has been concerning to me from the start. You had to know that this was how Iran was going to react. Once they reacted, what were you planning on doing? And I think the answer is, they weren't sure, and that's problematic."

––June 21, 2019, in a statement to The Hill

“The President said he believed a military strike at this moment would be disproportionate, and his decision to cancel the strike was the right decision.  However, this Administration has failed to give Congress, the American people, or our allies any indication that it has a strategy to compel Iran to change its behavior.  That must change, or else we risk provoking Iran into an avoidable war that would risk American lives and resources and put our allies, including Israel, at grave risk.

It is clear that Iran cannot be made to change its ways purely using pressure; dialogue and incentives are needed.  Instead of red lines and tough rhetoric, this Administration must provide sound judgment and a concrete strategy that minimizes the risk of war.  The possibility of miscalculation and escalation in the current environment is substantial. Both sides ought to take steps to deescalate and limit the chances that a miscalculation will occur.”

––June 21, 2019 in a statement

Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX)

MARGARET BRENNAN: I also want to ask you about Iran. You've been speaking to the White House. Was it a surprise to you that the president pulled back from this military strike?

REP. McCAUL: To some extent, yes. We were in-in invited. I commend the president for bringing in all the national security leaders in the Congress, House, Senate, bipartisan, to discuss what should we do. Now, it was- it was almost like, historically, like, almost like the Cuban Missile Crisis. You know, I can hit this island. I- I can strike Iran, but then what would be the consequences if I did that? Are there other alternatives to that? One thought was if you kill Iranians on Iranian soil, you will only aggravate the situation. The Iranians will rile up around the ayatollah and become more anti-American and they will unleash what they call the proxy war, the proxies being Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist organizations. I think, you know, what the president did, what- he exercised restraint. He was thoughtful and measured and said, "You know what, I'm going to take a step back right now." When he found out that 150 people would be killed- take a step back and see if there's another way to get this done. We know since that time, that cyber operations have been conducted to bring down the command and control of--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you know that--

REP. McCAUL: --of missile systems.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --it did occur?

REP McCAUL: Well, I should say it's been reported and you know that's how I have to say it. It's been reported and that's a very effective warfare game that we're playing against the Iranians. So they are getting hit. Their energy sector is crippled by the sanctions. We're going to- we're going to introduce more sanctions against Iran to get them to that place we can negotiate. I talked to Secretary Pompeo yesterday. He's traveling to the region right now to meet with coalition partners. And then there's a national security- U.N. national security meeting on Monday to talk about Iran and condemning Iran for its actions in the Straits of Hormuz.”

––June 23, 2019 on Face the Nation


Senator Chris Coons (D-DE)

“We just had a briefing last week and, frankly, a number of my colleagues asked questions right along those lines and were frustrated that there wasn’t more specific and relevant details. I can’t go into what was said in a classified setting, of course, but I’ll tell you that I left that briefing underwhelmed with the clarity of the potential scenarios that were laid out. A number of military leaders, who are not currently serving but who are former, have said publicly and pointedly that an actual full-scale war with Iran would be incredibly costly, very long and of uncertain outcome. Iran is larger, more populous, has more hardened military experience, has combat troops with experience throughout the region, so compared to Iraq, I think it would be an even harder country. If all we do is a small exchange of missiles, of jet strikes, and it remains contained, I can see how some would imagine that it would be less disastrous. The challenge is the possibility for escalation. And in the briefing and in discussions afterwards with colleagues, that’s what I have been focusing on is we don’t have a lot of running room for error here. We have other challenges in the world—North Korea, China, Russia—and we need to maintain some of the strategic flexibility and resources to tackle other challenges in the world, in addition to Iran.”

––June 24, 2019 on Morning Joe


Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)


Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)


Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL)


Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR)


Representative Elissa Slotkin (D-MI)


Senator Rand Paul (R-KY)


Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) 


Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL)

“Yes, I have great respect for my fellow Floridian, Michael Waltz. He's an American patriot. But I think what's naive is believing that engaging in endless, unfocused, unconstitutional regime change wars in the Middle East is effective, either in the Middle East or back home.

I mean, you just look at Afghanistan, we are down from having the Afghan government controlling 72 percent of their administrative districts to 56 percent of their administrative districts in the last three years. And you look at the $6 trillion that we've spent in the region and you think that's larger than the market cap of Facebook, Google, and Amazon combined.

I think an American first foreign policy advanced by the president is one that would prioritize getting the gulf cartel out of the southwestern United States before we decide that we will be the policeman of the Gulf of Oman.

And if you've got Japan and Norway not seeking work for vessels owned by folks in their countries being attacked, I don't think it's the job of the United States to avenge foreign vessels or American robots, with the blood of our bravest service members and patriots, Michael Waltz being one of them.”

––June 22, 2019 on Fox News


Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA)