More than 50 Missoulians took to the parking lot outside U.S. Sen. Steve Daines’ local office Thursday evening to protest the Trump administration’s recent actions in the Middle East.
“I fought in Vietnam,” said Dexter Aspevig, holding a sign that said “Veterans for Peace.” “I know what war does, and I don’t want to see it again.”
Several of the others at Thursday’s rally, organized by the Missoula County Democrats and Missoula Rises, shared that sentiment after several tense days in the Middle East. Last week, a U.S. drone strike killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani at Baghdad International Airport. Iran retaliated early Wednesday, launching 22 missiles at two Iraqi bases where U.S. forces are stationed; no injuries were reported.
President Trump did not announce new military action, but did say he would implement new economic sanctions.
Meanwhile, lawmakers have sought to rein in the president’s military authority. On Thursday, the House passed a resolution directing Trump to terminate use of the U.S. military against Iran, unless specifically authorized by Congress or in the event of an imminent attack. As a concurrent resolution, this bill would also go to the Senate for a vote but not be submitted to the president. Congressional authority over military actions has long been a matter of debate. Montana's senior senator, Democrat Jon Tester, is supporting a separate resolution that also aims to prohibit Trump from going to war against Iran without congressional approval, stating that "the American people — and the servicemembers who will be sent halfway across the world to defend us — deserve a transparent debate by the folks who represent them in Congress about whether it's in our national interest to fight yet another war in the Middle East."
The rally's speakers echoed that sentiment, and called on Daines to restrain the administration. “The last thing we need right now is another war in the Middle East,” said Andrew Person, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, and former Democratic state representative whose words drew cheers.
“What do we need from our senator, Senator Daines?” he continued, “We need him to ask tough questions, we need him to be independent. … We don’t need someone to just fall in line with whatever the White House decides to do.”
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Earlier in the day Vondene Kopetski, chairman of the Missoula County Republican Central Committee, said Trump’s actions are within his constitutional authority, and surmised that “this is strictly political, this is the Democrats not liking the fact that they lost the 2016 election.”
A spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement that “As Americans, we must stand united with our military, as the Senator does. It’s disheartening to see Missoula Rising (sic) mourning the death of a terrorist who killed over 600 Americans. The President, as Commander in Chief, has the authority and responsibility to protect Americans facing imminent danger. The Senator believes in the first amendment, and welcomes feedback from all Montanans.”
Karen Wickersham, chair of the Missoula County Democrats, disputed the notion that they were mourning Soleimani. “No, Senator Daines, we are mourning the loss of Republicans who stand up for the Constitution and the American people, especially you.”
About 10 police officers and several cruisers spread out over North Pattee Street. Cpl. Michael Kamerer with the Missoula Police Department said officers arrived at 5 p.m. as a safety precaution. For the duration of the protest, police blocked all eastbound traffic on Front Street running from Higgins Avenue.
“There hasn’t been any threats of violence, or anything on that level. We’re also here to direct traffic,” he said.
Olivia Vesovich, a student at Hellgate High School, held a sign reading “No More Endless Wars.” Vesovich, who heard about the protest through a friend, said she wanted to send a message to Daines to oppose any vote that might lead to war in Iran.
“No one should have to suffer. Not us and not them,” she said.