Two Republican senators came out of a Trump administration briefing on the assassination of a top Iranian commander steaming mad, with one saying the briefing was so bad that it made him support a Democratic war powers resolution.
Talking to reporters after the briefing, Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) seemed exasperated.
It 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,” Lee said.
The Utah senator said the Trump administration briefers had communicated that Congress debating the appropriateness of future military action in Iran would “embolden” Iran.
“I find it insulting, and I find it demeaning to the Constitution of the United States to which we’ve all sworn an oath,” Lee said. Later, he said none of the briefers had stood in objection when one of them discouraged debate about military action against Iran.
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He and Paul are known as relative doves among Senate Republicans — less eager than their counterparts to endorse foreign military interventions and unchecked executive power. But Lee rarely expresses that sentiment to reporters in the halls of Congress, and almost never in the mood he was in Wednesday.
“They left after 75 minutes,” he said of the Trump administration briefers — “while they’re in the process of telling us that we need to be good little boys and girls and run along and not debate this in public.”
“I find that absolutely insane,” he said.
Paul later echoed many of his colleague’s remarks, saying that the intelligence the senators heard was “less than satisfying.”
“I think we need to have a debate about separation of powers,” he said.
“That briefing is what changed my mind,” Lee said. “I walked into the briefing undecided, I walked out decided, specifically because of what happened in that briefing.”
“It’s un-American, un-Constitutional and wrong, and I hope and expect that they will show greater deference to their own limited power in the future.”
Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), speaking to TPM shortly after Paul and Lee’s remarks, defended the administration.
“The question was asked, would a War Powers debate now send a bad signal, and I think the obvious answer is ‘Yeah, it shows there’s division,’” he said. “They have the right to debate. But I have the right to say, ‘What you’re doing is hurting us.’”
Lee told reporters that the Trump administration briefers were asked repeatedly what it would take for the executive branch to ask Congress for a formal authorization to use military force.
“I’m sure we can think of something,” he recalled one of the briefers responding at one point.
“They struggled to identify anything” that would require congressional authorization, Lee said.
Tierney Sneed contributed reporting from Washington, D.C.
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