WASHINGTON — The killing of the powerful commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, in a drone strike on Friday sharply divided congressional leaders along party lines and reignited a debate over whether Congress should curtail the president’s war powers.
The strike, which the Pentagon said President Trump ordered and was “aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans,” was a significant escalation in the administration’s pressure campaign against Tehran.
“This particular scenario is one that I’ve thought about for many years and it is one that could very well lead to the type of violence and chaos that we’ve been so desperately trying to keep ourselves out of,” said Representative Andy Kim, Democrat of New Jersey and the former director for Iraq on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council “The coming hours and days will be very important.”
According to Speaker Nancy Pelosi the strike was carried out “without the consultation of Congress.”
“American leaders’ highest priority is to protect American lives and interests,” Ms. Pelosi said in a statement. “But we cannot put the lives of American service members, diplomats and others further at risk by engaging in provocative and disproportionate actions. Tonight’s airstrike risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence.”
Republican lawmakers praised the president for the strike, saying that Mr. Trump had brought justice to scores of American military families. United States officials considered General Suleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers during the Iraq war as well as for hostile Iranian activities throughout the Middle East.
“His death presents an opportunity for Iraq to determine its own future free from Iranian control,” said Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “As I have previously warned the Iranian government, they should not mistake our reasonable restraint in response to their previous attacks as weakness.”
Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said on Twitter that Mr. Trump had “exercised admirable restraint while setting clear red lines & the consequences for crossing them.”
The Quds, Mr. Rubio tweeted, “are entirely to blame for bringing about the dangerous moment now before us.”
But Democrats worried about the consequences of the strike.
Representative Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts, called General Suleimani an “enemy of the United States with American blood on his hands.”
“But the question we’ve grappled with for years in Iraq was how to kill more terrorists than we create,” Mr. Moulton said in a statement. “That’s an open question tonight as we await Iran’s reaction to Donald Trump’s escalation, which could ignite a regional war, with still no strategy from the administration.”
Other lawmakers, like Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, accused Mr. Trump of bringing the nation “to the brink of an illegal war with Iran.”
“Such a reckless escalation of hostilities is likely a violation of Congress’s war-making authority — as well as our basing agreement with Iraq — putting U.S. forces and citizens in danger,” Mr. Udall said in a statement, “and very possibly sinking us into another disastrous war in the Middle East that the American people are not asking for and do not support.”
Mr. Udall, as part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers, had fought last year to pass a measure that would have required Mr. Trump to get Congress’s permission before striking Iran. But the resolution, which would have needed Mr. Trump’s signature, was jettisoned by the Senate in June. Another attempt to squeeze the amendment into the National Defense Authorization Act, the must-pass annual defense bill, was stripped out of the final version of the legislation.
“Any member who voted for the N.D.A.A. — a blank check — can’t now express dismay that Trump may have launched another war in the Middle East,” said Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California and one of the sponsors of the measure. “Our Congress let our nation down again by failing to stand up against a war in Iran.”