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'Hope not,' Trump says when asked if the United States will go to war with Iran

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump said "hope not" when he was asked Thursday if the United States is going to war with Iran.
  • Members of Congress blasted the Trump administration for being left in the dark about details of the situation with Iran — and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump lacks authority to declare war on Iran.
  • The Trump administration has sent an aircraft carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East in response to what it has characterized "troubling and escalatory indications and warnings" from Iran.
US President Donald Trump (L) greets Switzerland's President Ueli Maurer before a meeting at the White House on May 16, 2019, in Washington, DC.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images

President Donald Trump said "hope not" when he was asked Thursday if the United States is going to war with Iran.

That answer to a reporter's question during a photo opportunity at the White House with Swiss President Ueli Maurer came amid growing concern about a conflict between the U.S. and Iran.

Within hours of Trump making that public comment, The New York Times reported that the president has told acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan that he does not want to go to war with Iran.

Meanwhile, members of Congress blasted the Trump administration for leaving them in the dark about details of the situation with Iran — and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump lacks authority to declare war on Iran.

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"The responsibility in the Congress is for Congress to declare war," said Pelosi, D-Calif.

"So I hope the president's advisors recognize that they have no authorization to go forward in any way. They cannot call the authorization, AUMF, the authorization for the use of military force, that was passed in 2001, as any authorization to go forward in the Middle East now," she said.

"I like what I hear from the president that he has no appetite for this," Pelosi added added. "One of the places that I agree with the president is that both of us in our opposition to the war in Iraq and I hope the same attitude will prevail with the president of the United States even though some of his supporters are rattling sabers."

The Trump administration has sent an aircraft carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East in response to what it has characterized as "troubling and escalatory indications and warnings" from Iran.

Those indications include a purported threat from Iran against U.S. diplomatic posts in Iraq, as well as worry that Iran is setting the stage to place rocket launchers on ships in the Persian Gulf.

On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department ordered nonemergency government employees to leave the American embassy in Baghdad and the consulate in Erbil.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Armed Services Committee, told reporters Thursday: "The American people have been kept in the dark. It is disgraceful and despicable that we're on the verge of war, and the American people are given this kind of confused and chaotic picture of what the situation is on the ground."

Blumenthal said that he and other senators have heard that "we are supposedly going to have a briefing on Tuesday" from the Trump administration about the Iran situation.

But, Blumenthal added, "we're hearing it may be too late because hostilities may have begun or there may be an escalation on the military situation."

That would be "petrifying," he said.

Later Thursday, three sources told NBC News that all senators will be receiving a classified briefing next Tuesday to update them on the situation involving Iran and the Middle East.

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In addition to Shanahan, the briefers scheduled to attend are Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., evoked the Vietnam War in his criticism of the administration's Iran planning.

"Literally. I don't know if someone in the White House is waiting for a Gulf of Tonkin moment here to initiate military action against Iran," Durbin said, referring to the purported attack by North Vietnam on an American naval vessel in 1964, which has been viewed as a bogus pretext by President Lyndon Johnson to escalate U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

"That would be a serious mistake, and under our Constitution, this president has to seek the authority to do [so] from Congress," Durbin said.

New York Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, "The administration should give us a classified briefing as soon as possible."