‘Cowboy behavior’ vs. ‘better dead’: Philly lawmakers divided over U.S. airstrike in Iran

The prospect of war could have consequences for Pennsylvania as 2020 battleground.

Rep. Dwight Evans in January 2019

Rep. Dwight Evans in January 2019

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
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Philadelphia’s congressional delegation in Washington has split along party lines in response to the U.S. airstrike that took out one of Iran’s most powerful political and military figures.

Less than two days into the New Year, President Donald Trump authorized a bombing near Baghdad airport that killed Qassem Soleimani, the high-profile leader of Iran’s secretive Quds Force and one of the most formidable military figures in the region. The offensive escalated already fraught tensions, igniting major concerns over another U.S. war in the Middle East.

Iran immediately vowed “harsh retaliation” against the U.S. in response to the airstrike.

Democratic lawmakers, in Philly and nationwide, have reacted skeptically to the Trump administration’s actions, which happened without congressional notification. Republicans have largely supported the surprise attack on the military leader.

Here’s how Philly’s representatives in D.C. are reacting.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey

In a statement on Thursday, the Pentagon justified the attacks on grounds that Soleimani was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” though it did not elaborate on the intelligence behind the claim.

Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, echoed the Pentagon’s characterization of Soleimani as an architect of war, while still calling for scrutiny into the intel that led to the bombing.

“Qassim Suleimani was a military figure who inflicted terror and killed thousands in Israel, Iraq, Syria and other places. He was directly responsible for the killing of hundreds of American soldiers and civilians,” Casey said in a statement. “The world is safer with him gone.”

Casey also called on the Trump admin to brief Congress next week on the legal grounds for the strike, including the nature of the threats articulated by the Pentagon in its statement on Thursday. Casey said he’s also looking into the administration’s planning ahead of potential retaliation by the Iranian regime.

“I have grave concerns,” Casey said in a statement, “that President Trump and his Administration have not provided the American people with a comprehensive strategy on Iran.”

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey

Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, praised the president for the strike, citing the deaths of U.S. servicemen that have been attributed to Soleimani.

“Qasem Soleimani was responsible for the murder of hundreds of Americans,” Toomey wrote on Twitter. “The world is a better place now that he is dead.

“Every American should be grateful to our armed forces who carried out this strike with incredible skill and precision,” he continued. “The Trump administration was right to restore deterrence against Iran.

U.S. Rep Dwight Evans

Rep. Dwight Evans, who represents the western half of the city as part of Pennsylvania’s 3rd Congressional District, also criticized Trump for failing to brief lawmakers in advance.

“President Trump’s erratic approach to war and peace has not worked with North Korea, and the American people will not be well-served by cowboy behavior in the Middle East either,”  Evans wrote on Twitter. “President Trump failed to consult with Congress.”

U.S. Rep Brendan Boyle

Rep. Brendan Boyle, whose 2nd Congressional District covers the eastern side of Philly, reiterated the call for a brief.

He and other Democrats cited the War Powers Act, which requires congressional notification before any action that could plunge the U.S. into another foreign conflict. The killing of Soliemani, often referred to as the second most powerful person in Iraq, amounted to a knowing act of war, prominent Democrats said.

“I call on the President and his Administration to immediately report to Congress the details of this strike, and any further plans,” Boyle said in a statement.

U.S. Rep Mary Gay Scanlon

Scanlon, whose Delaware County district covers a sliver of South Philly, also took to Twitter to condemn what she saw as “dangerous escalation” of U.S. diplomacy with Iran. Unlike her Democratic colleagues in the region, she referred to the incident as “an assassination” rather than “a killing.”

Political impact in 2020

Trump, who is up for reelection next year, campaigned in 2016 against further U.S. entanglement in the Middle East. He often criticized former President Barack Obama over his Iran policy choices, in particular.

“Don’t let Obama play the Iran card in order to start a war in order to get elected,” he tweeted in 2011.

Polls of the American people have shown consistent discontent around U.S. interventions. Most Americans viewed the Bush- and Obama-era campaigns in the Middle East as wholly unsuccessful.

In Pennsylvania — viewed as a battleground state in this year’s presidential election — the prospect of another conflict will no doubt have political consequences. A 2017 scholarly analysis argued Hillary Clinton’s reputation as a “pro-war” candidate hurt her at the polls in swing states whose residents experienced higher casualty rates during the U.S. wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pennsylvania was a prime example used in the study.

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