GOP Senators Actually Pissed At Trump Over Iran Briefing, Will Go Back To Being Cowards Tomorrow

Utah GOP Senator Mike Lee is mad. He described Wednesday's briefing on the Qasem Soleimani killing as "probably the worst briefing I've seen at least on a military issue in the nine years I've served in the United States Senate." Enraged at getting the brush off from defense officials, Lee says that he and Rand Paul will now support Democrat Tim Kaine's Resolution to stop President Trump unilaterally bumbling us into a war with Iran.

Just lookit him come out of the SCIF all pissed off and sweaty after Mike Pompeo and Mark Esper tried to run the rope-a-dope on him!

After prefacing his comments by insisting that the tsar the president could not possibly know of his ministers' perfidy, Lee lambasted "the briefers" -- that would be Sec. Def. Esper, Sec. State Pompeo, CIA Director Gina Haspel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley -- for their apparent insistence that there is no scenario in which Donald Trump needs Congress's permission for aggressive military action against Iran.

LEE: What we were told over and over again was that this action was necessary, that this was a bad guy, we had to do it. And we can't have division, we can't have dissension within our ranks or else it sends the wrong signal to the Iranians. And I just think that's completely wrong.

They were asked repeatedly what, if anything, would trigger the need for the administration to come back to Congress for a declaration of war or for an authorization for the use of military force. At one point, I believe one of the briefers said something along the lines of "I'm sure we could think of something." But they struggled to identify anything.

Despite what noted Con Law scholar of Ouachita Baptist University Sarah Huckabee Sanders barfs out on Fox, that is not how Constitution goes, since that document gives Congress the power to declare war.

This morning on NPR, Lee was even more specific, telling Rachel Martin that Pompeo and Esper had refused to even acknowledge an obligation to consult Congress before assassinating the Supreme Leader of Iran, an open act of war. Other elected officials were furious when "the briefers" tried to fob them off with claims that Defense officials couldn't possibly discuss classified information, despite the fact that they were briefing members of Congress in a SCIF.

Indeed, Nancy Pelosi emerged from the House briefing similarly unimpressed.

Naturally, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio dueled to outdo each other in feats of sycophancy, each pronouncing it the bestest, most coherent, superlatively compelling briefing in history, and anyone who says otherwise is giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

Trump's impulsive decision to assassinate a high-ranking Iranian military official, and his refusal to even make a token gesture toward his constitutional obligation to coordinate with Congress, have shoved a Republican schism out into the open. In the broadest terms, libertarians like Rand Paul believe the federal government should have less power over taxation, war, regulation, and everything else. Mainstream Republicans believe in the "theory of the unitary executive," where the president is vested with enormous unilateral authority. Well, at least they believe that when there's a Republican in the White House. Like their belief in balanced budgets and shrinking the national debt, it's pretty situational.

Which brings us to the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which Lindsey Graham and John Bolton are currently describing as unconstitutional. Passed over President Nixon's veto, the law attempted to impose a framework to balance Congress's war powers with the president's authority as commander in chief of the military. All presidents have taken the position that the War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional, and the war in Vietnam is often referred to as the "Vietnam conflict," because multiple presidents conducted war without a formal congressional declaration.

As they once wielded fear of communism to suppress dissent, since September 11, 2001, Republicans have characterized any pushback against the president's military adventurism or trampling of civil liberties as anti-patriotic. Anyone over 40 will remember President Bush's press flack Ari Fleischer telling "all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do" lest they give aid and comfort to the enemy. So Lindsey Graham's statements are certainly nothing new, although aiming his fire at fellow Republican senators may be novel.

Also nostalgic is the Trump administration's reliance on the the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which authorized the President "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons," and the 2002 AUMF, which empowered the president to "defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq."

To be fair, these AUMFs have never gone out of style, as they undergirded executive authority to fight further undeclared wars in Afghanistan and Syria. But now, to the extent that Donald Trump's minions have made any effort at all to cite a legal justification for provoking a possible war with Iran, they've simply pointed vaguely toward the president's command of the military and the 19-year-old war authorizations, while shouting indignantly, "How dare you question our authority, you filthy Ayatollah sympathizer!"

Today, the House will debate Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin's resolution under the War Powers Act to specifically revoke the president's power "to engage in hostilities in or against Iran" without specific congressional authorization, unless it becomes "necessary and appropriate to defend against an imminent armed attack upon the United States." Mike Pompeo's stated evidence that killing Soleimani prevented such an "imminent" attack seems to have fallen apart under scrutiny: Soleimani was a dangerous killer, but the harms Pompeo and Esper cited publicly were all either retrospective or speculative. Nor is it clear that killing him will prevent those future attacks. They were apparently unable to provide more convincing evidence of an "imminent plot" in the SCIF yesterday.

In the Senate, Senator Tim Kaine's slightly broader resolution was co-authored last March with Republican Todd Young of Indiana. If Young still supports it and both Lee and Paul stick to their guns, it only takes one more Republican to get to 51 votes, at which point, Mitch McConnell has a big problem. But's just say that we wouldn't lay money on Republicans bucking Trump in the face of withering attacks from the wingnut media.

In the end, the success or failure of the war powers debate rests not in the eventual passage of the law, since there certainly aren't enough Republicans voting for it to override a presidential veto. The point is that we are now talking, on a bipartisan basis, about reining in the president's authority to stumble into forever wars without a clear objective or exit strategy -- or even knowing what a "win" looks like. And we get to point out once again that everyone in Trumpland is a lying hack, of course.

In a perfect world, we wouldn't discuss deadly wars in terms of who won or lost the news cycle. But if we don't win most of the cycles between now and November, we're going to be stuck with this nightmare for another four years, during which war is basically inevitable.

So ... yeah, let's call this a win. Keep it up.

[Slotkin Resolution / Kaine Resolution / NBC]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.


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