Lawmakers Bitterly Divided After Iran Briefing

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Members of Congress drew sharply different conclusions Wednesday after the Trump administration made its case that an imminent threat had justified the killing of a top Iranian military commander.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley and CIA Director Gina Haspel held a classified briefing for all House and Senate members on the justification for killing Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Administration officials cited the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force as part of the legal justification for the killing of Soleimani.

The tensions in the Capitol Hill has inflamed the hyper-partisanship that has infected Congress, even on matters of U.S. foreign policy. Democrats left the classified briefing in the Capitol Hill dissatisfied with the lack of information provided by the Trump administration to support their claims. 

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“There were so many important questions that they did not answer,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer(D-NY). “As the questions began to get tough they walked out. I’ve asked for a commitment that they all come back within a week.”

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“The basic theme of it was the administration essentially saying: ‘Trust us.’ ,” Rep. Eliot Engel(D-NY) chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said after the classified briefing. “And that’s really what it all boils down to. I’m not sure who I trust or what I trust when it comes to these issues because we’ve been told so many different things that really just bother me.”

Meanwhile, most Republicans said the President did the right thing by acting within his authority as Commander-in-Chief to defend Americans.

Senator Marco Rubio(R-FL) said the administration had the authority to order the strike due to the “clear intelligence” that there was not only an imminent threat to United States troops, but also an “ongoing near-term threat” against the United States.

“We never need congressional authority in this country to act in the defense of our troops, and that’s what this administration has done,” Rubio said. “They have been very clear they don’t seek to start a war, and if there is military action, it will be in response to Iranian proxy actions, not because we started it first.”

“The information that was shared was both compelling and decisive,” Rep. Mark Meadows(R-NC). “This was a clear and present danger for American interests and American individuals.”

Senator Ted Cruz(R-TX) said the killing of Soleimani “was profoundly important for keeping our country safe.”

“He had a long pattern of killing Americans ― according to the Department of Defense, over 603 servicemen and women ― and he took the life of an American contractor in the Middle East; he had directed an assault on the United States embassy [in Iraq]. We heard considerable testimony concerning an imminent threat to Americans that the administration acted to prevent by taking out Soleimani,” Cruz said.

Only two Republicans broke ranks — Sens. Mike Lee and Rand Paul and said they plan to support the Democratic War Powers resolution. 

Lee characterized the meeting as one of “the worst briefing I’ve seen, at least on a military issue,” adding it was “insulting and demeaning.”

“I find this insulting and demeaning to the Constitution of the United States,” Lee said. It is not acceptable for officials within the executive branch of government to come in and tell us that we can’t debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran. They had to leave after 75 minutes while they’re in the process of telling us that we need to be good little boys and girls and run along and not debate this in public.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shortly afterward announced that the House would vote on a war powers resolution on Thursday. The war powers resolution directs Trump to terminate the use of the U.S. military in or against Iran, unless Congress has declared war or passed an authorization for the use of force against it.

The resolution is expected to easily pass the House, but would face a more difficult time in the Senate. Only a simple majority of 51 is needed to pass, but it is uncertain if it will pass in the GOP controlled Senate. If the Senate does pass the House resolution, President Trump will veto the measure similar to what he did last April when vetoing the War Powers Resolution to end U.S. military role in Yemen.