President Donald Trump, at his first campaign rally of the year Thursday, defended the assassination of an Iranian military leader last week, painting his decisions as commander in chief as a prime reason to reelect him.
“By subsidizing Iran’s maligned conduct, the last administration was leading the world down the path of war,” Trump told a crowd of thousands at the event in Toledo, Ohio. “We are restoring our world to the path of peace, peace through strength.”
The president appeared in Ohio, a key battleground state, as the presidential campaign heats up. He largely leaned into the assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, one of the most powerful military leaders in the Middle East, in a drone strike in Iraq last week and called the man the “world’s top terrorist.”
“He was a bad guy,” Trump said. “He was a bloodthirsty terror, and he’s no longer a terror. He’s dead.”
Tensions with Iran hit a boiling point in the days after the strike, and the Islamic Republic launched more than a dozen missiles this week in retaliation at several military bases in Iraq that housed U.S. troops. Trump said no Americans were killed or injured in the missile attack, and Iran said after the barrage ended that it no longer sought any further “escalation or war.”
Trump himself on Thursday appeared to support a de-escalation in tensions, saying the U.S. sought “friends, not enemies.”
“But if you dare to threaten our citizens, you do so at your own grave peril,” he told the crowd in Toledo.
Despite Trump’s signals, the House passed a resolution Thursday, largely along party lines, that is meant to limit Trump’s war powers. A similar measure is working its way through the Senate, but to carry the force of law, any specific resolution would have to pass both chambers and be signed by the president. Trump would almost certainly veto the measure, and it’s unlikely the Senate would have enough votes to override the veto.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) defended the vote on Thursday regardless of its outcome, casting it as a fierce rebuke of the president’s decision-making.
“This is a statement of the Congress of the United States, and I will not have that statement be diminished by whether the president will veto it or not,” Pelosi said.
During the Ohio rally, Trump repeatedly slammed senior Democrats in Congress who criticized the decision to kill Soleimani, pointing to Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).
“The radical left Democrats have expressed outrage over the termination of this horrible terrorist,” Trump said Thursday as the crowd jeered Pelosi’s and Schiff’s names. “And instead they should be outraged by Soleimani’s savage crimes.”
Trump also mocked efforts by Congress to force him to discuss any future military action against Iran with lawmakers.
“We had to make a decision. We didn’t have time to call up Nancy, who is not operating with a full deck,” the president said.
Trump has regularly visited Ohio since his election, and Thursday’s visit marked his 15th trip to the state, according to The New York Times. He carried Ohio by 8 percentage points in 2016, but Democrats have targeted the state as a potential toss-up in November.