Better late than never, we suppose.
Nancy Pelosi is set to hold a House vote on curtailing Donald Trump’s war powers following a harrowing two weeks that brought the US into open, state-on-state conflict with Iran.
Following Iranian counterstrikes billed as “proportionate” retribution for the assassination of the country’s second-most powerful man, Trump on Wednesday declared that the nation “appeared to stand down”. In additional details, Mark Esper said the IRGC fired 16 rockets at US bases in Iraq, inflicting little in the way of damage. There were no US casualties. He said the Pentagon had no information regarding the Boeing 737 that crashed near Tehran shortly after the IRGC wrapped up its attacks.
Lawmakers on Wednesday came away unconvinced (at best) after closed-door briefings with administration officials including Esper, Mike Pompeo, Gina Haspel and Mark Milley, who attempted to outline the justification for the strike on Qassem Soleimani.
GOP Senator Mike Lee was exceptionally irritated. “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, adding that he was “somewhat unsatisfied” that he had been given a sufficient rationale regarding the “the legal, factual and moral justification for the attack”.
“I find this insulting and demeaning”, he seethed. Unsurprisingly, given his foreign policy views, Rand Paul was similarly vexed. “Today, this is Sen. Lee and I saying, we are not abdicating our duty”, Paul remarked, joining his colleague in expressing support for legislation from Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, who is introducing a resolution to limit Trump’s war powers.
Democrats weren’t happy either. “The administration firmly believes that based on good intelligence, the threat was immediate”, Anthony Brown said. “But it appears to me that the actions that were taken was much more of a response to the past conduct of General Soleimani, and I’ve not yet heard… the facts underlying what the potential imminent future threat that was posed. I didn’t hear anything about alternatives to neutralize or address the threat”.
Gerry Connolly didn’t mince words, calling the proceedings “sophomoric”, “unconvincing” and “absurd”. “No case was made for imminence. No case was made for thinking this through, and I leave more troubled than when I went into it”, he said.
And then there was Chris Murphy, who tweeted this: “The bottom line is I did not hear evidence of a specific imminent threat that would allow an attack without congressional authorization. With consequences as serious as these, that is unacceptable. Congress needs to act”.
Of course, many Republicans were totally satisfied with what they heard, and their names are familiar. Mark Meadows praised Haspel, for example, and Steve Scalise called the briefing “very helpful”. “A homerun speech by President Trump about the challenges we face with Iran”, Lindsey Graham gushed, of Trump’s address to the nation. “It was measured and firm”.
But even some sycophants turned on the president this week. Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, for instance, lashed out at the White House for blatant hypocrisy. “It seems like just 20 minutes ago we were denouncing these same people as ‘the deep state’ and pledging never to trust them again without verification”, Carlson said on Monday night, of the intelligence community whose assessment Trump is now leaning on to justify the strike against Soleimani. “But now, for some reason, we do seem to trust them implicitly and completely”, Carlson continued.
The administration has given no indication that it will release an unclassified version of the notification Trump sent to Congress over the weekend, formally acknowledging the drone strike, as required by the 1973 War Powers Act.
One source who spoke to Vox on Wednesday said this:
They gave us no time, place, or method. Instead, we got a historical overview of decades-long malign activities from Iran. It [raises] the question: Was the attack on Soleimani more in retribution for what he’s done, or what he was planning?
Everyone knows it’s the former, and now, both the Senate and the House appear poised to try and limit Trump’s capacity to escalate things further, although you’d be forgiven for suggesting it’s too late.
NBC has some additional details:
Democrats reiterated their calls from earlier in the day for Congress to vote on a new war powers resolution to replace ones passed by Congress to invade Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2002.
Progressive Democrats have been pushing proposals floated by Reps. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and expressed openness to a measure by Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., which was announced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Sunday. Kaine has proposed similar legislation in the Senate.
Pelosi announced Wednesday that the House would vote Thursday on Slotkin’s resolution.
Earlier this week, Chuck Schumer said the Senate would on Kaine’s resolution, which would force a debate and a vote on the Hill in order to avoid further escalation of hostilities.
In addition to Lee and Paul, “Democrats need to win over two more Republicans for the resolution to pass and Kaine could bring it to the floor as soon as next week”, Politico notes.
A furious Lee appeared to suggest that Pompeo and Haspel attempted to convince lawmakers not to discuss the matter. “They had to leave after 75 minutes 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”, he said. “I find that absolutely insane”.
“Members of Congress have serious, urgent concerns about the administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran and about its lack of strategy moving forward”, Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “Our concerns were not addressed by the president’s insufficient War Powers Act notification and by the administration’s briefing today”.
“Trust us. That’s really what it all boils down to”, Eliot Engel remarked after hearing from Esper, Pompeo and Haspel. “But I’m not sure that ‘trust me’ is a satisfactory answer”.