President Donald Trump falsely claimed Thursday morning that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been “trying to defend” Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed late last week in an airstrike Trump ordered.
Trump told reporters: “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 so badly — so many people are walking around now without legs and without arms, because he was the big roadside bomb guy.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy made a similar claim about Pelosi at his weekly news conference earlier on Thursday morning.
“I never thought there would be a moment in time that the Speaker of the House of Representatives would actually be defending Soleimani,” McCarthy said. He continued, “Did you listen to what the Speaker just said? ‘Soleimani was a bad person, but…’ There is no ‘but.'”
The comments from Trump and McCarthy were part of what has become a concerted Republican effort to dishonestly equate criticism of Trump’s decision to kill Soleimani with positive feelings about the Iranian general or even positive feelings about terrorism.
Trump and McCarthy were following in the same vein as Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who baselessly accused Democrats of “mourning the loss of Soleimani,” and Republican Rep. Doug Collins, who baselessly said that Democrats are “in love with terrorists” and “mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families,” the families of slain American soldiers.
Facts First: Pelosi has not defended Soleimani. She has criticized Trump’s decision to kill him, calling the airstrike “provocative and disproportionate” and arguing that it put American soldiers, diplomats and other citizens at risk. But she has offered no defense of Soleimani’s actions or personality. In fact, she has called him a “terrible person” who “did bad things,” explicitly emphasizing that her opposition to killing him was not based in any sympathy for him or for Iran.
Pelosi said at her own weekly news conference on Thursday morning, right before McCarthy’s: “What happened in the view of many of us is not promoting 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 as for my intelligence background, know just how bad Soleimani was. It is not because we expect good things from them, but we expect great things from us.”
She echoed those remarks later in the news conference, this time saying, “As I say, we have no illusions about Iran, no illusions about Soleimani. He was a terrible person, did bad things.”
Republicans have taken issue with Pelosi’s decision to call the killing of Soleimani “disproportionate,” citing what US military officials have said is Soleimani’s central role in orchestrating attacks that have killed numerous Americans.
They are entitled to criticize Pelosi’s “disproportionate” claim as inaccurate or insensitive. But saying that killing Soleimani was disproportionate, irresponsible or an escalation simply does not qualify as defending Soleimani. It is, of course, entirely possible to simultaneously believe Soleimani was despicable and that Trump made the wrong move.
“Incumbent on reporters to make clear this is trash,” Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, said on Twitter about McCarthy’s claim, citing Pelosi’s criticism of Soleimani at her press conference. Hammill declined to comment further.
It is possible Trump had not seen Pelosi’s Thursday criticism of Soleimani before he attacked her, since their events overlapped. (Pelosi’s news conference was scheduled for 10:45 a.m., while the environmental policy event where Trump made his comments was scheduled for 11 a.m.) But there was no basis for his claim regardless.