By thrusting the United States to the brink of war with Iran, President Donald Trump may have prodded congressional Republicans to the point where they are finally willing to push back. Trump has bullied them into compliance with his amorphous agenda and bizarre personal behavior. But when it comes to war, the stakes might be too high for Republican lawmakers to continue shirking their primary responsibility of providing oversight and checks on presidential power.
Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah hopefully will be the catalyst for a new GOP movement to stop tolerating Trump’s dangerous antics and finally start speaking out. What prompted him to take a stand was a closed-door briefing senators received on Wednesday on the so-called imminent threat that required the killing of a top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani. Lee described the 75-minute session as “probably the worst briefing I’ve seen at least on a military issue in the nine years” he’s been a senator.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, joined Lee in expressing outrage at the administration’s refusal to recognize Congress as a co-equal branch of government with the constitutional power to grant war-making authority.
Lee says one of his big problems was the refusal of White House briefers to answer a simple question: At what point does the administration believe it is required to seek congressional authorization? If the next target is Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Lee asked, should Congress be notified? The briefers wouldn’t answer.
“I find it insulting, and I find it demeaning. ... It’s un-American. It’s unconstitutional. And it’s wrong,” Lee said.
“They are appearing before a coordinate branch of government responsible for their funding, for their confirmation, for any approval of any military action they might take. They had to leave after 75 minutes while they were in the process of telling us that we need to be good little boys and girls and not debate this in public. I find that to be absolutely insane.”
White House officials have chided members of Congress to fall in line and not to publicly challenge Trump’s action. Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham told Fox News: “I know a lot of people are now questioning the intel, that’s really unfortunate.”
This after the president spent three years publicly berating the intelligence community, minimizing the importance of his daily intelligence briefing and suggesting that the CIA was part of a “deep state” conspiracy against him. Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that he will say or do anything to justify his actions, improve his reelection chances or merely to massage his own ego.
That’s why Thursday’s non-binding House resolution curtailing Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran without congressional consent was necessary. And with more Republican senators now willing to assert their independence, Congress can finally start to assume its proper oversight role.