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Senate Republicans call for strikes on Iran following U.S. service member deaths

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called for “serious, crippling costs — not only on front-line terrorist proxies, but on their Iranian sponsors.”

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to reporters following a closed-door lunch meeting with Senate Republicans at the U.S. Capitol October 17, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Senate Republicans on Sunday called for the Biden administration to carry out military strikes on Iran and Iranian personnel following the deaths of three U.S. service members in a drone attack on a U.S. base in Jordan by an Iranian proxy group.

The administration had thus far resisted such calls in response to previous Iranian-backed attacks, which had injured, but not killed, U.S. troops. The administration has conducted strikes against proxies outside of Iran in response to some attacks on U.S. forces, but frequently declined to respond, especially prior to Oct. 7.

Sunday’s deaths are likely to increase pressure for stronger action against Iran from the administration, as well as on the Democratic Senate to pass the stringent Iran sanctions bills that have moved through the House.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blasted the administration for its previous responses, describing them as “hesitation and half-measures.” He called for “serious, crippling costs — not only on front-line terrorist proxies, but on their Iranian sponsors.”

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement, “We must respond to these repeated attacks by Iran and its proxies by striking directly against Iranian targets and its leadership.”

He argued that the administration’s limited responses to previous attacks “have only invited more attacks.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who has been calling for strikes on Iran for months, said that the administration’s warnings to Iran are “falling on deaf ears” and that “Iran is undeterred.”

“The Biden administration can take out all the Iranian proxies they like, but it will not deter Iranian aggression,” Graham said. “I am calling on the Biden administration to strike targets of significance inside Iran, not only as reprisal for the killing of our forces, but as deterrence against future aggression.”

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) called for “devastating military retaliation against Iran’s terrorist forces, both in Iran and across the Middle East.”

Other senior Republicans called for the administration to impose consequences on Iran and its proxies, without explicitly encouraging strikes against the Iranian homeland.

“It’s long past time for President Biden to finally hold the terrorist Iranian regime and their extremist proxies accountable for the attacks they’ve carried out against U.S. and coalition forces,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) said.

From the Democratic side, lawmakers called for a response to the attack, but did not detail what a response should look like. Even the most hawkish Democrats stopped short of calling for strikes on Iranian territory.

“We must work to hold those responsible accountable,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said. A Schumer spokesperson declined to comment on calls for strikes on Iran.

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), who recently helped lead a resolution calling for strong action against Iran, likewise said that “Iran must be held accountable.” 

Asked whether Rosen supports strikes on Iran, a spokesperson told JI that the Nevada senator “believes it’s up to the administration to utilize available intelligence to determine the decisive action it will need to take to hold Iran accountable for this horrific drone strike. Failure to act now will only embolden Iran’s aggression.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Ben Cardin (D-MD) said that the attack “is an escalation and cannot go unanswered,” expressing support for a “deliberate and proportionate response.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI) said  he is “confident the Biden Administration will respond in a deliberate and proportional manner,” while noting that the Pentagon “is still gathering all the facts from this attack.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who is mounting a Senate bid in California from the far left, framed the attack on U.S. forces as a consequence of Israel’s operations in Gaza and U.S. support for Israel.

“Like I feared, the violence is spiraling out of control,” Lee said. “POTUS must demand a ceasefire in Gaza now.”

Iran attacked U.S. forces dozens of times prior to the Israeli war in Gaza.

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