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Rubio Calls Iran Briefing ‘Compelling’; Lee Calls It ‘Insulting’; Cruz Tries To Thread Needle For Lee

By  Frank Camp
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) speaks during news conference where a bicameral group of Congressional Republicans called for Senate Democrats to vote on funding for the Department of Homeland Security February 12, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On Thursday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) criticized senators who, after being briefed about the strike against Qassem Soleimani, were not “convinced [that] action against” the leader of the Iranian Quds Force “was justified.”

This appeared to some to be a potentially veiled swipe at Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who stated that the Iran briefing was “inadequate” and “insulting.”

Following the briefing on Iran, Sen. Lee spoke to reporters. The senator made sure to first note that he respects the way in which President Trump has conducted himself with respect to foreign military engagement:

I want to state at the outset I support President Trump; I support and respect the manner in which he has approached his commander in chief powers. I believe that more than any other president in my lifetime, President Trump has shown a lot of restraint; he’s been reluctant to get us involved in wars all over the globe; he’s been very mindful and respectful of the fact that when the American people are asked to give up blood and treasure, they’re sending off their sons and their daughters, their moms and their dads, into battlefield, and he’s therefore very careful about it. I respect that enormously. My comments at the moment are not directed toward the attack that occurred on Friday. We’ll leave that to another day.

After making sure his initial point was clear, Lee went on to discuss his primary issues with the briefing:

I will say that we were brought into this briefing today to talk to us about that attack on Friday. I had hoped and expected to receive more information outlining the legal, factual, and moral justification for the attack, but was left somewhat unsatisfied on that front.

The briefing lasted only 75 minutes whereupon our briefers left. This, however, is not the biggest problem I have with the briefing, which I would add was 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. What I found so distressing about that briefing was that one of the messages we received from the briefers was, “Do not debate; do not discuss the issue of the appropriateness of further military intervention against Iran, and that if you do, you’ll be emboldening Iran.” The implication being that we would somehow be making America less safe by having a debate or a discussion about the appropriateness of further military involvement against the government of Iran.

Now, I find this insulting and demeaning, not personally, but to the office that each of the 100 senators in this building happens to hold. I find it insulting and I find it demeaning to the Constitution of the United States, to which we’ve all sworn an oath. It is, after all, the prerogative of the legislative branch to declare war. Article 1 section 8 makes that very clear.

Lee stated that he entered the briefing on the fence about “whether to support the resolution under the War Powers Act introduced” by a Democratic senator, but came out in support of it (pending amendments that would make it satisfactory).

Lee concluded:

It is not acceptable for officials within the executive branch of government – I don’t care whether they’re with the CIA, with the Department of Defense, or otherwise – to come in and tell us that we can’t debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran. It’s un-American; it’s unconstitutional; and it’s wrong. And I hope and expect that they will show greater deference to their own limited power in the future and to the power that belongs to Congress.

Speaking later with Fox News’ Martha MacCallum, Lee clarified and expanded on his remarks:

First of all, as to the substance of the strike itself on Friday with General Soleimani – he was a bad guy. I have yet to take a position on that. I was hoping to be able to reach a conclusion as to the logical, legal, constitutional, and moral justification today. I didn’t feel like I got my questions answered. I’m willing to assume for purposes of this discussion with you right now, Martha, that that may have been legally justifiable.

What I’m concerned about is the flippant attitude that they [those who briefed the senators] reflected, both with regard to the underlying facts on Friday’s attack and especially as they relate moving forward to any subsequent attack that we might undertake on Iran. There was a dismissive attitude, one that was displayed in such a way that resulted in them saying “We can’t identify what circumstances in which we would need to come back to Congress to get approval or authorization.” That’s antithetical to the Constitution.

Lee continued:

We repeatedly asked them, “Under what circumstances would you need to come back to us to get authority from Congress before taking an action against Iran? For example, what if you decided that you wanted to take out the supreme leader. Would you in that circumstance need to come back to Congress for a declaration of war or an authorization for the use of military force?” Astoundingly, they refused to answer that question. I find that simply unacceptable.

When MacCallum asked Lee about the briefers’ explanation as it pertained to “the justification for the imminence of the attacks,” Lee replied:

They kept telling us that there would have been an imminent attack had they not taken this strike on Friday, which, again, for purposes of this conversation, I’m willing to assume may well have been lawful. But then when we would ask them, “What was the nature of that attack? When and where would it have occurred? By whom would it have been carried it out?,” they refused to answer the question, and they deferred in the same way they would if we weren’t in a classified environment, saying, “Well, we can’t talk about that.” Well, we were in an underground bunker designed for that very purpose. And they should have told us.

Senator Marco Rubio didn’t share the same perspective, tweeting on Wednesday and Thursday:

Natl Security officials gave a compelling briefing to Senators just now. They answered every important question. Anyone who walks out & says they aren’t convinced action against #Soleimani was justified is either never going to be convinced or just oppose everything Trump does.

Any Senator who left the briefing on #Iran & claims #Soleimani wasn’t planning a near term attack on Americans is calling the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Milley a liar. Because Gen. Milley stated clearly & firmly that Soleimani was about to kill Americans.

Rubio later attempted to clarify, issuing another tweet: “Some reporting about GOP Senator upset after Iran briefing leaves false impression it’s because information provided didn’t justify #Soleimani strike. It was because administration didn’t offer hypothetical scenario requiring congressional authorization for military action.”

Appearing on Fox News, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a close friend of Lee, seemingly tried to bridge the gap, telling host Shannon Bream:

I think Mike was frustrated because the administration, particularly when asked some forward-looking questions about what level of congressional authorization and congressional consultation was necessary, I think the administration was a little too quick to dismiss the role of Congress. Listen, I’m a believer in the Constitution. Under the Constitution, it is Congress that has the power to declare war, and I think any time you’re looking at long-term sustained military engagement, you need congressional authorization. That’s what Mike was reacting to, is the administration was pretty dismissive of that.

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