GOP senator appalled by Trump administration briefing on Iran explains why it was ‘deeply upsetting’

GOP senator appalled by Trump administration briefing on Iran explains why it was ‘deeply upsetting’
Gage Skidmore

This week, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah has been highly critical of the way in which the Trump Administration handled a briefing for members of Congress on the Iran crisis. And the Utah Republican voiced some of his criticisms during an interview with NPR’s Rachel Martin.

Lee complained that when military action is taken against a foreign power — for example, the drone strike that killed Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani — members of Congress should not be excluded from the process.

Martin, during the NPR interview, asked Lee, “What kind of hypotheticals were you putting to them in hopes of understanding when the administration sees a need for Congressional authority?” — to which the Utah Republican responded, “As I recall, one of my colleagues asked a hypothetical involving the supreme leader of Iran: if, at that point, the United States government decided that it wanted to undertake a strike against him personally, recognizing that he would be a threat to the United States, would that require authorization for the use of military force? The fact that there was nothing but a refusal to answer that question was perhaps the most deeply upsetting thing to me in that meeting.”

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, analyzing Lee’s comments in his column, wrote, “Obviously, this was an extreme hypothetical. But the point of it was to discern the contours of the administration’s sense of its own obligation to come to Congress for approval of future hostilities. And it succeeded in doing just that, demonstrating that they recognize no such obligation.”

Josh Chafetz, a law professor at Cornell University, stressed the importance of congressional approval for military attacks when speaking to Sargent.

Chafetz told Sargent, “It would be hard to understand assassinating a foreign head of state as anything other than an act of war. It’s appalling that executive-branch officials would imply, even in responding to a hypothetical question, that they do not need congressional authorization to do it.”

Another law professor, Stephen Vladeck of the University of Texas at Austin, told Sargent, “If the administration won’t concede that this is a clear example of when they would they would have to go to Congress, it’s hard to imagine what would be. This underscores just how completely irrelevant they view Congress to be in the war powers conversation.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sargent notes, is pushing a bill that “would require Trump to cease any military hostilities against Iran 30 days after enactment, if he hasn’t received congressional authorization for it.” Trump is urging “all House Republicans” to vote against the bill — a request Sargent is hoping Republicans won’t go along with.

“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,” Sargent asserts. “And so it shall be.”

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