A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Pelosi Did Not ‘Defend’ Soleimani


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to kill Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani as “provocative and disproportionate.” But, contrary to the president’s contention, she did not “defend” Soleimani.

In fact, we were not able to find any examples of Democrats who have defended or “mourned” the death of Iran’s top military commander, despite such claims from several other Republicans.

On Jan. 2, the Pentagon announced that, at Trump’s direction, American troops used a drone and killed Soleimani, Iran’s top security and intelligence commander, at Baghdad International Airport. The Pentagon statement said Soleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”

The statement further noted that “Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more. He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months – including the attack on December 27th – culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel. General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week.”

In a press release put out that day, Pelosi warned that the strike “risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence.” Pelosi also noted that the military action was taken without Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iran and “without the consultation of the Congress.”

But nowhere in the release did she “defend” Soleimani, as Trump claimed in remarks to the press on Jan. 9.

Trump, Jan. 9: You know what bothers me? When I see a Nancy Pelosi trying to defend this monster from Iran, who has killed so many people, who has so badly — I mean, so many people are walking around now without legs and without arms. Because he was the big roadside bomb guy. He was the one who would send them to Afghanistan. He would send him to Iraq. He was big. That was his favorite thing. He thought it was wonderful. He doesn’t think it’s wonderful anymore. When Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats want to defend him, I think that’s a very bad thing for this country. I think that’s a big losing argument, politically, too.

Those comments echo similar statements made by other prominent Republicans.

In an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News on Jan. 6, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said, “The only ones mourning the loss of Soleimani are our Democrat leadership and Democrat presidential candidates.” And in an interview with Fox News’ Lou Dobbs on Jan. 8, Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said, Pelosi and the Democrats are “in love with terrorists” and “mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families who are the ones who suffered under Soleimani.” (Two days later, Collins apologized for his remarks.)

Again, we are not aware that Pelosi or any other Democratic leaders or presidential candidates publicly “mourned” the death of Soleimani or defended him. Our colleagues at PolitiFact looked into Haley’s comment and found that while most of the Democratic presidential candidates expressed concern about Trump’s move escalating tensions with Iran, they prefaced their comments by saying that Soleimani had the blood of American soldiers on his hands, and should not be mourned.

We asked the White House when Pelosi defended Soleimani, but it did not respond.

Several times in the past week, Pelosi has made comments critical of Trump’s actions. But she never defended Soleimani.

Pelosi, in a Jan. 4 press release calling on the administration to brief Congress: “The Trump Administration’s provocative, escalatory and disproportionate military engagement continues to put servicemembers, diplomats and citizens of America and our allies in danger.”

Pelosi, in a Jan. 5 “Dear Colleague” letter: “As Members of Congress, our first responsibility is to keep the American people safe. For this reason, we are concerned that the Administration took this action without the consultation of Congress and without respect for Congress’s war powers granted to it by the Constitution.”

Pelosi, in a Jan. 8 press release, after the administration’s briefing: “Members of Congress have serious, urgent concerns about the Administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran and about its lack of strategy moving forward.  Our concerns were not addressed by the President’s insufficient War Powers Act notification and by the Administration’s briefing today.”

The speaker elaborated on her position during a press conference on Jan. 9. She again said Trump “conducted a provocative, disproportionate airstrike against Iran which endangered Americans and did so without consulting Congress.” But she said she was aware of “just how bad Soleimani was.”

Pelosi, Jan. 9: And so what happened in the view of many of us is not a promotion of peace, but an escalation. Not that we have any confidence in the goodness – or the good intentions of Iran, and we certainly do not respect, and I from my intelligence background, know just how bad Soleimani was. It’s not because we expect good things from them, but we expect great things from us.

Later in the press conference, Pelosi described Soleimani as “a terrible person” who “did bad things.”

Pelosi, Jan. 9: As I say, we have no illusions about Iran, no illusions about Soleimani, who was a terrible person. Did bad things. But it’s not about how bad they are, it’s about how good we are, protecting the people in a way that prevents war and does not have us producing, again and again, generations of veterans who are suffering.

Trump’s comments occurred about the same time that Pelosi spoke, and we don’t know if Trump heard her remarks when he made his. But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy responded directly to Pelosi’s remarks and parroted Trump’s claim that she was “defending” Soleimani.

McCarthy, Jan. 9: I never thought there would be a moment in time that the Speaker of the House of Representatives would actually be defending Soleimani. … Did you listen to what the Speaker just said? “Soleimani was a bad person, but…” There is no “but.” He’s a bad person because he killed American soldiers. … He’s a bad person because he was planning more against Americans. The president was right in his actions, and we are safer today for it.

Later that afternoon on the House floor, Pelosi again argued that Trump’s actions “endangered our servicemen and women, our diplomats and others,” but added that Soleimani “was somebody that we do not mourn the loss of.”

Pelosi, Jan. 9: But with the President’s actions last week, he endangered our servicemen and women, our diplomats and others by taking a serious risk of escalation with tensions with Iran. This does not come with any respect for Iran. We know what bad actors they are in the world. We know that Soleimani, I from my Intelligence background, know that Soleimani was somebody that we do not mourn the loss of, a bad – he did very evil things in the world. But, we also know that when we take an action, we have to understand the ramifications of it.

We take no position on whether the president’s actions to take out Soleimani will ultimately make Americans more or less safe. But there is a distinction between criticizing the president’s decision to kill Soleimani and “defending” him, and there is no evidence that Pelosi defended Soleimani or “mourned” his death. In fact, she has made statements directly contradicting that claim.