Asked in an interview on Fox News Friday morning why he made the initial claim, Collins only said he “understood” the frustration with his comments. But he laid out his own frustrations with Democratic efforts to limit Trump’s ability to go to war with Iran without first seeking congressional approval, calling the issue “very personal for me.”
“I think their actions are betraying them at this point,” he responded when asked a follow-up question about whether he “honestly” believed Democrats love terrorists.
Democrats have had a mixed reaction to a U.S. airstrike last week that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, then the leader of Iran’s elite Quds forces. While they have roundly condemned the military commander’s reign, noting that he’s credited with hundreds of American deaths over his decades in power, they have also questioned the timing of the strike.
“Let me be clear: I do not believe Democrats are in love with terrorists, and I apologize for what I said earlier this week,” he wrote in a string of tweets later Friday morning, arguing that his comments were a response to an impending House vote aimed at limiting Trump’s authority to go to war with Iran.
Collins, who has served as a chaplain for the Air Force reserves since 2002, deployed to Iraq for a year in 2008 and remains in the reserves presently, a resume he mentioned in his apology.
“As someone who served in Iraq in 2008, I witnessed firsthand the brutal death of countless soldiers who were torn to shreds by this vicious terrorist. Soleimani was nothing less than an evil mastermind who viciously killed and wounded thousands of Americans,” he continued. “These images will live with me for the rest of my life, but that does not excuse my response on Wednesday evening.”
The strike was preceded by an attack blamed on Iranian-backed militias in Iraq that left an American contractor dead, as well as violent protests at the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad just days before.
The Trump administration has stood by its decision to take out Soleimani, pointing to his previous attacks while also asserting that the general was planning an “imminent” attack on American forces and diplomats in the region, though it has not publicly released evidence of such a plot.
Iran attempted to avenge Soleimani’s death with a missile strike earlier this week on U.S. bases in Iraq, raising concerns about the possibility of a new war with Iran. Amid the uncertainty and turmoil, Democrats in the House and Senate introduced resolutions this week aimed at preventing Trump from going to war with Iran without first receiving congressional approval.
The House passed its version of the symbolic, non-binding resolution Thursday evening mostly on party lines, and it is unclear whether Democrats in the Senate will secure enough Republican support to push that version through the chamber.
At least one Democratic member of Congress reacted to Collins’ initial comments with outrage.
“I’m not going to dignify that with a response,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a former Black Hawk pilot who lost both of her legs while deployed to Iraq told CNN on Thursday. “I left parts of my body in Iraq fighting terrorists. I don’t need to justify myself to anyone.” In a later tweet, she pointed out that Trump has sparred with Gold Star families, who have lost loved ones at war.
Preet Bahara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, also slammed Collins in a tweet: “I understand politics and sharp rhetoric. I worked in the Senate for four years. But Collins declaring Democrats “are in love with terrorists” is an abomination, a step beyond. Pathetic.”
Collins is not the first Republican to have accused Democrats of being overly sympathetic to Soleimani.
Nikki Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, said in an interview on Fox News earlier this week that “the only ones mourning the loss of Soleimani are our Democrat leadership and Democrat Presidential candidates.”
She later sought to defend her comments, arguing to The Dispatch that “mourning comes in different forms.”