Congress on Saudi Oil Attacks

In September 2019, members of Congress were divided over how the Trump administration should respond to attacks that damaged oil facilities in Saudi Arabia.

Democrats were united in demanding the White House seek authorization from Congress prior to any military action against Iran. Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) walked back comments he made calling for a military response if Iran were proved to be behind it. He said he instead believes the administration should undertake diplomatic action and seek congressional authorization first.


Republicans were divided on whether the administration should immediately retaliate or first present evidence that Iran behind the attack. And at least two Republican lawmakers – Senator Rand Paul and Representative Mo Brooks – said they opposed unilateral U.S. military action against Iran. The following are collected remarks by U.S. lawmakers.


Congressional Leadership

Mitch McConnell (KY), Senate Majority Leader: “I hope our international partners will join us in imposing consequences on Iran for this reckless, destabilizing attack.”

--September 16, 2019, in remarks on the Senate floor


Chuck Schumer (NY), Senate Minority Leader: "Any kind of significant action should get the ok of Congress. My worry here is that they will bumble into war, even if they don’t want one. They will bumble into it because there’s been no long-term strategy."

--September 17, 2019, in remarks to the Senate press corps


Steny Hoyer (MD), House Majority Leader: “The attack on the Saudi oil facilities is not only an attack on Saudi Arabia but on the stability of the world economy.  That may well be its intent.  We do not yet know who perpetrated this attack, but whoever did this ought to suffer consequences after a proper investigation of what actually happened.  Any response must be well thought-out and strategic. 

“Unfortunately, the Administration’s lack of a clear, consistent policy on Iran, on the Middle East generally, and on international security continues to create instability rather than stability.  While this action has no justification, it occurred within that context.  The Administration must articulate and put into place a coherent, credible policy dealing with Iran, the Middle East, and global insecurity.”

--September 17, 2019, in a statement


Kevin McCarthy (CA), House Minority Leader: 


Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

James Risch (ID), Chairman: “Iran continues to respond to diplomacy with violence and demonstrate the regime’s refusal to act as a responsible member of the international community. The recent attacks against Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure underscore Iran’s efforts to sow instability throughout the Middle East.

“Iran should not underestimate the United States’ resolve. Any attack against U.S. forces deployed abroad must be met with an overwhelming response—no targets are off the table.”

--September 16, 2019, in a statement


Robert Menendez (NJ), Ranking Member:


Majority Members

Marco Rubio (FL): 


Ron Johnson (WI): “I’m, like, 100 percent convinced…It’s very brief, which means to me it’s pretty cut and dry.”

--September 17, 2019, in an interview with NBC News


Mitt Romney (UT): 


Lindsey Graham (SC):


John Barrasso (WY): “I’m not calling for military action at this time.., To me, one of the things that was surprising is that Saudi Arabia wasn’t able to detect the incoming cruise missiles and drones—so that says a lot to me about their defensive capabilities. I support making sure we get weapons to them.”

--September 17, 2019 in an interview with DefenseOne


Rob Portman (PA): “We need to get the Europeans on board. I think that’s possible from what I know because it appears that the initial claims that this came from Yemen just aren’t true. The Houthis claimed responsibility but it came from the direction of Iraq or Iran. The question is who in Iraq might have sent these drones and these missiles. So, we need better information when we have the information I think we need to get the Europeans with us and others in the region and respond.”

--September 17, 2019, in an interview with CNBC


Rand Paul (KY): "I think an escalation of the war would be a big mistake…There is no reason the superpower of the United States needs to get into bombing mainland Iran. It would be a needless escalation of this and those who love the Iraq war, the Cheneys, the Boltons, the Kristols, they all are clamoring and chomping at the bit for another war in Iran, but it's not a walk in the park."

—September 15, 2019, in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union”


Todd Young (IN): “[The senator] will support an appropriate and proportionate response [after] studying the latest intelligence pertaining to Iran’s malign activities, including these recent attacks in Saudi Arabia.”

--September 16, 2019, in a statement to the National Interest


Ted Cruz (TX): "This weekend's devastating attacks on Saudi Arabia were designed to try to pressure President Trump into reducing his administration's pressure campaign against the Iranian regime. The Ayatollah's attacks, in turn, were enabled by the catastrophic Obama-Iran nuclear deal, which enriched Iran with hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief and cash, while gutting international restrictions against Iran's weapons and ballistic missile development.

"Now is absolutely not the time to reduce economic pressure on Iran. Instead, President Trump should order his administration to redouble its efforts to roll back the largesse of the deal. That means revoking the civil nuclear waivers, which allow Iran to build up its nuclear program, including at their Fordow nuclear bunker, which they dug out of the side of a mountain to build nuclear weapons. It also means going to the United Nations and invoking our unilateral right to snap back and restore international restrictions on Iran's arms.”

--September 16, 2019, in a statement


Minority Members

Ben Cardin (MD): “We’ve got be very careful about using our military. What we need to do is use the international community to isolate Iran. Iran is the bad actor. They need to be isolated, not America… the president does not have the authorization to use military force against Iran.”

--September 16, 2019 in an interview with MSNBC


Chris Coons (DE):


Tom Udall (NM):


Chris Murphy (CT):


Tim Kaine (VA):


Ed Markey (MA): “Evidence may show that the Iranian military bears responsibility, but true American leadership – which we sadly lack – means finding ways to de-escalate overseas crises through determined diplomacy. We cannot allow oil to be used as an excuse to embroil the United States in yet another disastrous Middle East war.”

--September 16, 2019, in a statement on the attack in Saudi Arabia


Senate Armed Services Committee

Jim Inhofe, Chairman (R-OK): “The apparent attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil production facilities by Iran is an attack on the global economy. President Trump has it right: Iran cannot be trusted, and we must protect our partners in the face of Iranian aggression. The best way to counter Iran is by working by, with and through regional partners — including making sure they have what they need to defend themselves and our shared interests.”

--September 17, 2019, in an interview with DefenseNews over retaliating for the attack on Saudi Arabia


Majority Members

Tom Cotton (AR): "The United States stands with our Saudi partners in confronting Iran's campaign of terror across the Middle East. The ayatollahs' desperate efforts to cripple global energy markets will only renew our commitment to maximum pressure. The Iranian regime and its proxies ought to face consequences for these attacks."

--September 14, 2019, in a statement on the attack in Saudi Arabia


Joni Ernst (IA): “Certainly there needs to be a strong reaction to what has happened on those Saudi oil fields. Again, depending verification, we need to know exactly that Iran was behind it. I do believe that they were behind this, and then be ready. But it needs to be a global effort in response.”

--September 16, 2019, in an interview with Fox Business


Thom Tillis (NC): “If it’s very clearly a smoking gun, I don’t think you can have something that just goes unanswered. How we go about it is the question…“The sanctions are working, so that might be a nonlethal option.”

--September 17, 2019 in an interview with HuffPost


Kevin Cramer (ND): “Even though I’ve just read the classified report, there’s more intel to be gathered, more people to be consulted, and time is on our side… “It’s appropriate for the president to exercise some restraint while allies in the neighborhood and elsewhere are consulted.”


Dan Sullivan (AK):


Minority Members

Angus King (I-ME):


Elizabeth Warren (MA): “Let’s be really clear. We don’t have the kind of evidence we need right now. Let’s just talk about where we are right now. And no president gets to declare war on their own… [President Trump] wants to talk about bombing somebody? You’ve got to come to Congress and get an authorization for the use of military force.”

--September 17, 2019, in an interview on The Late Show


Tammy Duckworth (IL): “Escalating volatility in the Middle East after the weekend attack on Saudi’s oil installations is extremely troubling. With his ‘locked and loaded’ language, Donald Trump seems to want to be viewed like some sort of John Wayne character, but in the same tweet proudly broadcasts that he’s awaiting further instructions from Saudi Arabia, a kingdom that openly murders journalists. In times like these, our leaders should be acting in America’s best interests, not kowtowing to monarchs and dictators, as we work to coordinate a response to this attack that promotes stability in a region that desperately needs it.”

--September 16, 2019, in a statement on the attack in Saudi Arabia


Senate Intelligence Committee


Richard Burr (NC), Chairman: “I’m convinced Iran was behind the attack.”

--September 17, 2019 in an interview with HuffPost


Majority Members

Susan Collins (ME): “I think you’re several steps ahead here, the intelligence assessments are still going on.”

--September 17, 2019, in an interview with Defense News over retaliating for the attack on Saudi Arabia


House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Eliot Engel (NY), Chairman: “While we don’t know who is responsible for the attacks in Saudi Arabia, we do know that without a clear strategy to deescalate tensions with Iran, the situation will only get worse. As the Administration determines next steps, I’m compelled to remind them that the Constitution is clear: unless the United States is attacked first, the President needs authorization from Congress before attacking Iran, even if he is acting in support of one of our partners…The notion that the White House may be waiting for a foreign government to make a decision instead of adhering to the Constitution is outrageous. The Administration needs to brief Congress fully and if the President is considering military options, his first stop must be Capitol Hill, not Riyadh.”

--September 17, 2019, in a statement on the attack in Saudi Arabia


Majority Members

David Cicilline (RI)


House Armed Services Committee

Majority Members

Ruben Gallego (AZ):


Elissa Slotkin (MI):


Minority Members

Mike Rogers (AL):


Mo Brooks (AL):


House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

Adam Schiff (CA), Chairman: "Iranian know-how, Iranian technology was certainly involved. Whether the Iranians directly engaged in this or through the Houthi proxies is yet to be seen."

—September 15, 2019, in an interview on CBS’ Face the Nation