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Kentucky's Federal Delegation Mixed On Trump's Assassination Of Iranian General

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to reporters Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Andrew Harnik
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to reporters Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Kentucky's congressmen and senators provided mixed reactions to the assassination of Iran's powerful military leader Qassem Soleimani during a U.S. military airstrike on Friday.

The attack has renewed divisions between Kentucky's two Republican senators, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praising the Trump administration for the action and Sen. Rand Paul cautioning the president against starting another war without congressional approval.

During remarks on the Senate floor Friday afternoon, McConnell celebrated the assassination of what he called "the architect and chief engineer of the world's most active state sponsor of terrorism."

McConnell also chided those who had already spoken out against the airstrike, urging senators to "wait to review the facts."

"Now, predictably enough in this political environment, the operation that led to Soleimani's death may prove controversial or divisive," McConnell said.

"Although I anticipate and welcome a debate about America's interest in foreign policy in the Middle East, I recommend that all senators wait to review the facts and hear from the administration before passing judgement on this operation and its potential consequences."

In a series of tweets Friday, Sen. Rand Paul called Soleimani "an evil man who ordered the killing of Americans," but also raised questions about what effect the assassination would have on the Middle East. 

"A war without a Congressional declaration is a recipe for feckless intermittent eruptions of violence w/ no clear mission for our soldiers. Our young men and women in the armed services deserve better," Paul wrote.

Paul has repeatedly questioned the United States' involvement in foreign conflicts and criticized presidents for waging war without congressional approval.

Congress authorized the president to use military force–a power normally reserved for Congress — in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the action has never been repealed.

Kentucky's lone congressional Democrat, John Yarmuth of Louisville, said he was "deeply concerned" by the assassination, which he called a "whim of an impetuous commander-in-chief.

"The Trump administration must come before Congress to provide an explanation of what has happened thus far, what they believe might warrant further military action, and why they have brought us to the precipice of yet another deadly, open-ended war in the Middle East," Yarmuth wrote.

Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky's 4th Congressional District said via Twitter Friday morning that "War propaganda is a powerful drug and so readily available right now."

Joining Paul in generally opposing the country's involvement in foreign wars, Massie tweeted before the airstrike that "We need to get out of the wars in the Middle East… not start another one."

Sixth District Republican Congressman Andy Barralso weighed in via Twitter:

"This decisive response to Iranian-supported aggression against our Embassy in Baghdad is a massive victory for our Armed Forces, our Intelligence Community and the United States of America," Barr wrote.

In an emailed statement, First District Republican Rep. James Comer praised the president for the strike. 

"I applaud President Trump and our Armed Forces for their bold and courageous action in taking out a brutal terrorist responsible for the bloodshed of hundreds of American citizens in Iraq," Comer wrote.

Republican Rep. Brett Guthrie of the 2nd Congressional District, said he supported the president's actions in an emailed statement.

"I think President Trump reacted restrained and appropriately, and I do hope Iran sees the power and will of our military and de-escalates their provocations," Guthrie wrote. "In the coming days I stand ready to work with my colleagues in Congress and the administration to respond to any further escalation in the Middle East."

Kentucky's 5th District Republican Congressman Hal Rogers also said he supported the assassination.

"With this enemy of our country and our democracy now vanquished, I hope Iran appreciates the strength of our military as well our desire for peace and stability in the Middle East," Rogers wrote.

Retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, a Democrat who's running to challenge McConnell in 2020, said Trump is running an "impulsive administration without any clear plan or strategy" in the region.

"Assassinating such a senior figure on the soil of another country without the lawful authorization of Congress is tantamount to a declaration of war and an increasingly likely tipping point for a broader and massive regional war with potential repercussions that will be beyond our ability to control or contain," McGrath wrote in a statement.

Louisville Democratic Rep. Charles Booker, who's exploring a run for the U.S. Senate in 2020 and could potentially challenge McGrath for the Democratic nomination, also issued a statement:

"Trump has shown that he will act without regard for our allies, our laws, or our interests. And Mitch McConnell has shown that he'll let him do it," Booker wrote.  "War with Iran would be a disaster. If Trump tries to go to war, Congress must intervene."

This story first appeared on WFPL. For more stories like this, . 

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Ryland is the state capitol reporter for the Kentucky Public Radio Network, a group of public radio stations including WKU Public Radio. A native of Lexington, Ryland has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.