Lawmakers clash on war powers after Soleimani strike

Lawmakers clash on war powers after Soleimani strike
© Greg Nash

Friction is flaring in Congress between defense hawks and opponents of so-called forever wars after President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff blasts Trump for making 'false claims' about Russia intel: 'You've betrayed America. Again.' Poll: Sanders leads 2020 Democratic field with 28 percent, followed by Warren and Biden More than 6 in 10 expect Trump to be reelected: poll MORE’s order to kill a top Iranian general.

The clash has made for some unlikely bedfellows, as typical Trump allies such as Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Pelosi names first-ever House whistleblower ombudsman director The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in MORE (R-Ky.) and Fox News host Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonTucker Carlson calls out Mick Mulvaney on immigration remarks: 'Dishonest and stupid' Trump punts on Stone pardon decision after sentencing Meghan McCain after Gaetz says Trump should pardon Roger Stone: 'Oh come on' MORE rail against the president’s decision and echo Democrats’ concerns about the possibility of military conflict with Iran.

To be sure, most Republicans have lined up behind Trump and a House vote this week on the issue is expected to largely break along party lines, as is a Senate vote expected to follow in the coming weeks. The proposed war powers resolution would mandate military hostilities related to Iran end within 30 days absent further congressional action.

ADVERTISEMENT

“We’re going to have a vote, and everybody’s going to declare,” said Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineThe Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' Democratic senators ask FDA to ban device used to shock disabled students MORE (D-Va.), who is sponsoring the Senate resolution. “I don’t know what the total will be, but we have some reason to believe from those earlier votes that there are people who believe in the congressional imperative, whatever they think about war with Iran, that it should be Congress that should decide it rather than the president on his own.”

The full House and Senate will be briefed Wednesday behind closed doors on the strike against Gen. Qassem Soleimani, providing an opportunity for lawmakers to air their grievances to top administration officials. The so-called Gang of Eight – the top Democrats and Republicans in the House, Senate and each chamber’s Intelligence Committee — was briefed on the intelligence Tuesday, with lawmakers declining to comment when they left.

Some Republicans who have previously cautioned against a military strike on Iran have come out in support of the Soleimani attack.

Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzGraham: Trump has 'all the legal authority in the world' to pardon Stone Meghan McCain after Gaetz says Trump should pardon Roger Stone: 'Oh come on' Sunday shows preview: 2020 Democrats jockey for top spot ahead of Nevada caucuses MORE (R-Fla.), who last year co-sponsored a House measure aimed at blocking military action against Iran, defended the president’s decision as an effort to protect U.S. troops.

“The president would need congressional authorization to start a war with Iran, but as the president made very clear, this was an effort to protect our troops and to stop a war, not to start one,” Gaetz said recently on Fox News.

Administration officials have argued the strike was necessary to preempt an imminent attack Soleimani was planning against U.S. troops and diplomats in the Middle East, but they have offered no proof to back up their assertions.

ADVERTISEMENT

Asked Tuesday for specifics about the supposed imminent threat, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe problem with Trump's Middle East peace plan India rolls out the red carpet for Trump Limbaugh: Democrats who set up George W. Bush to go to war with Iraq now organizing 'silent coup' against Trump MORE spoke about past events.

“We know what happened at the end of last year, in December, ultimately leading to the death of an American,” he told reporters. “So if you’re looking for imminence, you need to look no further than the days that led up to the strike that was taken against Soleimani.”

But the administration’s reliance on citing undisclosed intelligence has rankled even Trump supporters such as Carlson, who has used his Fox News show in recent days to warn against “jumping into another quagmire.”

On Monday, Carlson highlighted Trump’s previous dismissal of the intelligence community as the “deep state.”

“It seems like about 20 minutes ago we were denouncing these people as the ‘deep state’ and pledging never to trust them again without verification,” he said. “But now, for some reason, we do trust them, implicitly and completely.”

He went on to raise the issue of the Iraq War.

“And by the way, they also lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction back in 2002 and got us into an utterly pointless war that dramatically weakened our country,” Carlson said. “The people pushing conflict with Iran did that.”

Paul, meanwhile, said recently on CNN that Trump got “bad advice” on the Soleimani strike and that the general’s death means “the death of diplomacy with Iran.”

Paul’s comments on CNN elicited a rebuke from Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSunday shows preview: 2020 candidates look to South Carolina Where do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Barr to attend Senate GOP lunch on Tuesday MORE (R-S.C.), who has become a hawkish voice in Trump’s ear, spending the days before the Soleimani strike with Trump in Florida.

“Senator @RandPaul - like the Obama Administration - is under the illusion there are multiple voices making decisions for the Iranian theocracy – from moderate to hardliner,” Graham tweeted Tuesday. “I would encourage my Senate colleagues to not fall for this Iranian mythology.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischGOP lawmaker makes unannounced trip to northeastern Syria Lawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban Senators condemn UN 'blacklisting' of US companies in Israeli settlements MORE (R-Idaho), on whose committee Paul serves, would not comment Tuesday on the Kentucky senator, saying “any conversations I have with Sen. Paul will be between he and I.”

Asked more generally about concerns about a broader regional conflict stemming from the Soleimani strike, Risch said “just to talk about a general question like that, doesn’t work for me.”

“Before I would respond to them, I’d want to know exactly what you’re talking about in detail. Who’s involved? What’s the intelligence on it that that’s going to happen? What are the size of both the forces and the military equipment they’re going to use?” Risch said.

Paul has not said yet whether he’s supporting Kaine’s war power resolution, telling reporters Tuesday “we’re looking at it.”

“We’re going to wait to hear the intelligence on Wednesday,” Paul added.

Paul also sent a letter Tuesday with Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Energy: EPA moves to limit financial pressure on 'forever chemical' manufacturers | California sues Trump over water order| Buttigieg expands on climate plan Now is our chance to turn the tide on ocean plastic pollution Buttigieg expands on climate plan with new proposals MORE (D-N.M.) to their Senate colleagues seeking their support on a separate measure that would block funding for military action against Iran.

“As the New Year began, President Trump entered the United States into hostilities against Iran without congressional approval,” Paul and Udall wrote. “This important bipartisan bill would work to restore the Constitutional balance between the Congress and the executive and curtail this administration’s reckless actions in the Middle East against Iran.”

The Senate voted on the same measure last year. Then, four Republicans sided with Democrats to give the legislation majority support, but it needed 60 votes to pass. In addition to Paul, Republican Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBill Barr is trying his best to be Trump's Roy Cohn The new American center Democratic Senate campaign arm raised more than .5 million in January MORE (Maine), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranThe Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' The 8 Republicans who voted to curb Trump's Iran war powers MORE (Kan.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' The 8 Republicans who voted to curb Trump's Iran war powers MORE (Utah) voted for the bill.

ADVERTISEMENT

But it remains to be seen whether the war powers resolution can muster even that much Republican support.

Collins and Moran have said they are reviewing Kaine’s war powers resolution.

Lee said Tuesday he is inclined to oppose Kaine’s resolution over the legislation’s “findings of fact,” which he said “really overstate things.” But in general, he added, war powers resolutions are “something I’ve supported in the past.”

Sen. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungRepublican Senate campaign arm hauled in over million in January The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' MORE (R-Ind.), who didn’t support the previous Iran measure but voted for a war powers resolution about Yemen, said Tuesday he would talk with Kaine about his resolution.

But setting aside legal arguments about the Soleimani strike, Young added, “the world is better off in the absence of having this terrorist mastermind walk the earth.”

 

Jordain Carney contributed.