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Democratic Presidential Candidates Criticize Trump For Ordering Soleimani Strike

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

To the campaign trail now - the Democratic presidential hopefuls are united in their criticism of President Trump and his order to kill Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. The Democrats charge Trump acted recklessly, without regard for possible consequences, including the risk of another war in the Middle East. NPR's Don Gonyea is in Iowa.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: For the Democrats running for president, the killing of Soleimani offers a clear example of the risk of having Donald Trump as commander in chief. Former Vice President Joe Biden spoke at a campaign event in Davenport last night.

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JOE BIDEN: The fact is that I don't think he has any idea what he's dealing with.

GONYEA: Other candidates echoed that description of a president who acted impulsively without alerting Congress or key allies, with little regard for potentially deadly consequences and with no strategy going forward. Biden put this question to his audience in Iowa.

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BIDEN: Does anybody here think that he has any notion of what the next step is?

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: No.

BIDEN: No, I really mean it. This is - I really never thought - as someone who has spent his whole life involved in national security and foreign policy, I never thought that I'd see something quite like this. I really mean it.

GONYEA: Among the Democratic candidates, Biden is presenting himself as the steady hand America needs. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren also campaigned in Davenport yesterday. The audience did not ask about Iran during the Q&A session, but afterward, talking to reporters, Warren was asked about it. She said Trump saying something does not make it so.

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ELIZABETH WARREN: Donald Trump has lost all credibility with the American people, and he's lost all credibility around the world. The problem is that really costs us right now, particularly as this country is moved to the brink of war.

GONYEA: And she said the timing of this attack is suspicious.

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WARREN: Why right now, as Donald Trump faces a potential impeachment trial in the United States Senate next week?

GONYEA: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders hosted a health care town hall in Mason City, Iowa, over the weekend. He mostly stayed on topic, but the final question from the audience was about the Soleimani killing. Sanders started his answer by reminding the audience that he voted against authorizing the 2003 Iraq War. As for the current crisis...

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BERNIE SANDERS: I would remind everybody that Trump campaigned on ending endless wars.

GONYEA: But now Sanders fears another costly war is about to begin.

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SANDERS: Trillions more dollars, perhaps loss of more lives of Americans...

GONYEA: Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg is an Afghanistan War veteran. He said on MSNBC that no one should mourn the death of General Soleimani, but that doesn't mean that killing him was a wise thing to do. And with U.S. troops being mobilized, Buttigieg says his thoughts turned to them and their mission.

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PETE BUTTIGIEG: And having known what it's like to feel in the inside of one of those airplanes, you need to be able to trust that everybody up your chain of command has thought through what's ahead. And we're just not seeing a lot of indications of that.

GONYEA: Democrats were not lacking in issues to make their case that President Trump is unfit for office. Now Iran takes a prominent spot on the list, with the first voting of the primary season exactly four weeks from today.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Des Moines.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIIV SONG, "UNDER THE SUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: January 6, 2020 at 12:00 AM EST
In a previous version of this report, we incorrectly said that Pete Buttigieg is an Iraq War veteran. He served in Afghanistan.