THURSDAY UPDATE #2: Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) expanded on his comments in an interview with National Public Radio. Greg Sargent of The Washington Post singles out one of the more distressing pieces of that interview: Trump administration officials wouldn’t acknowledge a single hypothetical scenario in which they would consult Congress prior to taking significant military action.
As Sargent writes for the Post:
Our system is now functionally that one person makes these extraordinarily consequential decisions. Plainly, the person in question is not fit to do so.
Indeed, in this case, you’d think the starkness of the situation would get Congress — or, more precisely, congressional Republicans, since virtually all Democrats will do the right thing this time — to reassert its authority…
…Trump has threatened war crimes, has boasted about the size of his missiles and just ordered an assassination of a senior military leader in a sovereign country without alerting Congress or seeking its approval, based on intelligence that is dubious at best and on rationales that have fallen apart.
But Trump’s tweet calling on “all House Republicans” to vote against the new war powers measure now means that being loyal to Trump is synonymous with giving him unconstrained warmaking authority, despite all the madness we’ve seen. And so it shall be.
THURSDAY UPDATE: Um, what?
Vice President Mike Pence said today the White House didn’t actually tell Congress any significant information about the killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani. From The Washington Post:
Appearing on the “Today” show, Pence said the Trump administration actually did not share some of the most important information, because of its sensitivity…
…So to recap: The White House is now saying the information provided to lawmakers indeed might not have been as compelling as it could have been, but that Congress and the American people just need to trust that it’s there.
As The Post’s Shane Harris noted, that’s difficult to swallow. Even if an administration doesn’t share all the information widely with Congress for fear of leaks, it generally shares highly classified information with a smaller group of high-ranking lawmakers who are experienced in intelligence matters.
If the goal of the White House is to make supporters like Sen. Cory Gardner look like complete idiots…it’s working.
Congress must be consulted as we work with our allies to stop terrorism and the threat from Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of terror.
— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) January 8, 2020
Remember that this Tweet came after Gardner had already praised the earlier briefing.
Today may have been a singularly important moment for America during the Trump administration — the day that unquestioning support from Republican Senators finally started to crack. As The Hill newspaper reports:
GOP Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.) ripped the administration over a closed-door briefing on Iran on Wednesday, announcing they will now support a resolution reining in President Trump‘s military powers.
Lee, speaking to reporters after a roughly hourlong closed-door meeting with administration officials, characterized it as “the worst briefing I’ve seen, at least on a military issue.”…
…Lee said the officials warned that Congress would “embolden” Iran if lawmakers debated Trump’s war powers.
“I find this insulting and demeaning … to the office that each of the 100 senators in this building happens to hold. I find it insulting and demeaning to the Constitution of the United States,” Lee said.
Both Senators Paul and Lee made it clear that they would now be supporting the War Powers resolution sponsored by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, which would limit the President’s ability to use military force in Iran. Senator Lee noted that he had been undecided on this decision until today’s briefing.
It’s difficult to get a full sense of the fury emanating from Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee unless you listen to his remarks in full. Take a look:
Republican Senator Mike Lee (UT) calls the Trump Admin’s Iran briefing “probably the worst [military] briefing I’ve seen,” “insulting,” “unAmerican,” “unconstitutional,” and “wrong.”
Lee said he will now support Democrat Tim Kaine’s War Powers Resolution. pic.twitter.com/i184RJlb4Q
— Rantt Media (@RanttMedia) January 8, 2020
Here’s just a brief snippet of Lee’s rant in front of members of the media this afternoon:
“It is not acceptable for officials within the Executive Branch of government — I don’t care if they’re with the CIA, with the Department of Defense, or otherwise — to come in and tell us that we can’t debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran. It’s un-American. It’s unconstitutional. And it’s wrong.” [Pols emphasis]
From what Lee and Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul are saying, today’s Iran briefing seemed to be largely about Trump administration officials telling U.S. Senators to just shut up and accept whatever foreign policy decisions are being made by the White House. Obviously, this was not well received by independent-minded Senators.
Of course, some Republicans are still not willing to question the Trump administration. Here’s Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) unashamedly parroting talking points from the very same briefing that incensed his colleagues:
Our duty in Congress is to protect the United States, its people and interests, diplomats, and our men and women in uniform around the globe. The actions taken by our military in Iraq undoubtedly saved American lives and addressed a clear, compelling, and unambiguous threat.
— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) January 8, 2020
In a 2014 campaign ad, Gardner infamously looked into the camera lens and claimed, “when my party is wrong, I’ll say it.”
But when it came time to “say it,” Gardner was nowhere to be found — despite Republican colleagues giving him all the cover in the world to pretend to challenge President Trump.
For Colorado voters in 2020, what Gardner didn’t say today says plenty.