Leading Democratic presidential candidates have largely ignored ongoing anti-government protests in Iran, despite having championed other pro-democracy demonstrations abroad.
As thousands of Iranians risk death to protest the regime shooting down a Ukrainian passenger plane, many Democrats have focused on criticizing the Trump administration. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, and businessmen Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer have failed to acknowledge the protests.
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The widespread silence comes after all the Democratic presidential candidates criticized President Donald Trump's killing of Iranian terror leader Qassem Soleimani. Warren accused Trump of "taking us to the edge of war for his own political benefit," and Buttigieg blamed Trump in part for Iran shooting down the passenger plane.
"Innocent civilians are now dead because they were caught in the middle of an unnecessary and unwanted military tit for tat," he said.
While Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also blamed the tragedy on Trump, citing the "corruptive presence of the US and its cohorts," Iranian demonstrators quickly sided against their government. After Tehran admitted to shooting down the plane, protests broke out with chants of "Death to the dictator," and "They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here."
Despite their failure to recognize the ongoing demonstrations, both Warren and Buttigieg previously supported Iranian anti-government protests prompted by rising gas prices.
"Iranians have taken to the streets to protest corruption and authoritarianism," Warren said in November. "This struggle must ultimately be fought and won by the people of Iran, but we support their demand for dignity, freedom to connect to the outside world, and right to peacefully demonstrate."
Buttigieg issued a similar statement at the time, calling on the Iranian government to "take action to improve the lives of its citizens, rather than resorting to violence and censorship to repress protests."
Trump has routinely expressed support for the Iranian protesters since the demonstrations began on Saturday, saying he is "inspired" by their courage.
"To the brave, long-suffering people of Iran: I've stood with you since the beginning of my Presidency, and my Administration will continue to stand with you," he said. "We are following your protests closely, and are inspired by your courage."
Trump also issued a warning to Iranian leaders, tweeting "the USA is watching.… Stop the killing of your great Iranian people!"
Online videos surfaced Monday showing Iranian security forces firing live ammunition at demonstrators. At least 208 protesters were killed in November, according to Amnesty International.
Among the Democratic presidential candidates, only former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) have voiced support for the demonstrators, though Biden used the opportunity to again criticize the president.
"Trump's reckless policies have needlessly endangered our interests in the Middle East," Biden said. "But none of us should be under any illusions about the Iranian regime, and the Iranian people — like all people everywhere — have the right to peaceful protest. The world should support them."
Some Democratic candidates have ignored the protests even after praising similar demonstrations in the past. Yang called the Hong Kong protests "historic," adding that he "admire[s] their courage and self-determination a great deal," though he has remained silent about the ongoing protests in Iran. Steyer has been singularly focused on the Trump administration. He praised anti-Trump protests in the United Kingdom on multiple occasions, but has failed to voice support for protesters in Iran.
As Democrats continue to ignore the demonstrations in Iran, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) announced Monday he is introducing a resolution in support of the protesters.
"The world is watching, and the people of Iran need to know that they are not alone in this pivotal moment," he said.
**UPDATE** 4:34 p.m. 1/13/2020
The Warren campaign, which had ignored a previous request for comment, voiced its support for the Iranian protesters after the Washington Free Beacon posted its report.
"I support the right of the people of Iran to peacefully protest against their corrupt government. But this isn’t about us. We should support them, including by lifting the Muslim Ban—not try to engineer regime change or recklessly risk a war," she said on Twitter.