Tens of thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets to protest the regime in Tehran over the past week – but the historic showing has earned barely a mention from Democrats thought to be eyeing a 2020 presidential bid.
Whether it’s because their focus is trained on Trump controversies or some other reason, the muted response is striking. Even some members of the Obama administration, including Hillary Clinton, have issued statements supporting the protesters, as the Trump administration uses the development to ramp up pressure on the country’s hardline leadership.
The Republican National Committee has been quick to call out those Democrats staying mum during what could be a pivotal moment in Iran’s history.
“It’s been a week since protests started in Iran, and virtually none of the 2020 Democratic wannabes have said a word,” the RNC said in a statement earlier this week. “For all of their incessant cries of there being a ‘war on women,’ countless brave women are risking their lives on the streets of Iran right now by standing up to the regime.”
Democrats have frequently, and vocally, jumped on board with protest movements such as the Women’s March, Black Lives Matter and Antifa. On Wednesday, Democratic National Committee Deputy Chair Keith Ellison tweeted out a picture of himself clutching an “Anti-fascist handbook” and promising it would “strike fear into the heart” of President Trump.
But when it comes to Iran — where at least 21 have died and over 1,000 have been arrested during protests over economic woes and concerns the regime has been more focused on proxies in Syria and Lebanon than Iranians — such solidarity is not so apparent.
Republicans have noted that potential 2020 candidates such as Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.; and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe have stayed mum on the issue.
They have not tweeted or issued public statements on the protests. Former Vice President Joe Biden did address the issue during a PBS interview Thursday, but used the discussion to defend the Obama-era nuclear deal and slam Trump policies.
The Obama administration, amid similar protests in Tehran in 2009, was widely criticized for not showing more support for protesters at the time. Critics have claimed the administration squandered a chance to help overthrow or reform an anti-American regime.
Additionally, critics of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have accused former President Barack Obama of helping stabilize the Iran regime by loosening sanctions in exchange for dismantling its nuclear program.
“When the Iranian people demonstrated against the nation’s dictatorship in 2009, President Obama was weak and quiet,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said in a Fox News op-ed this week. “He was so interested in getting a nuclear arms deal with the dictatorship that he did not want to irritate Iran’s leaders.”
It is possible that the combination of these factors is making Democrats nervous about speaking out on Iran as it may involve revisiting the Obama administration’s legacy.
Of the top-tier 2020 potentials, so far only Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have sent out statements on the matter.
“I stand with the right of the Iranian people to peacefully protest,” Warren tweeted. “The people of Iran deserve a government that respects human rights and works to address their grievances.”
Other Democrats seemed more interested in taking shots at President Trump. Former Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine, D-Va., tweeted that the Trump administration should rescind its controversial travel ban — which target citizens of Iran, among other countries.
He also appeared to compare democracy movements in authoritarian countries such as Iran, Turkey and Russia with “resistance” movements in the U.S.
Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice tweeted out a New York Times story that urged Trump to follow Obama’s 2009 example and “stay quiet.”