(CNSNews.com) - Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky were two annoyed Republicans on Wednesday, joining Democrats in criticizing the classified briefing military and administration officials provided to lawmakers on Iran.
Sen. Lee made it clear that he supports and respects the "restraint" President Trump has shown with his commander-in-chief powers -- not rushing into wars, but being "very careful about it."
Lee said he walked into Wednesday's briefing expecting to hear more about the "legal, factual and moral justification" for Friday's targeted attack on Iranian Gen. Qassem Suleimani, but he was "left somewhat unsatisfied on that front."
He called the briefing "probably the worst briefing I've seen, at least on a military issue, in the nine years I have 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 will 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're all sworn an oath. It is the prerogative of the Legislative Branch to declare war.
Lee said as a result of the briefing, he has decided to support Sen. Tim Kaine's war powers resolution, if Kaine (a Virginia Democrat) agrees to minor amendments the two men have discussed.
Lee also said he hopes the briefers will "come back and say, you misunderstood."
"It is not acceptable for officials within the Executive Branch, I don't care if they are with the CIA, Department of Defense or otherwise, to tell us we can't debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran. It is un-American, it is unconstitutional, and it is wrong. And I hope and expect they will show greater deference to their own limited power in the future, and to the power that belongs to Congress."
Sen. Lee made a similar argument later on Wednesday, telling Fox News's Martha MacCallum, "I was hoping to be able to reach a conclusion as the logical, legal, constitutional and moral justification" for the killing of Soleimani, but "I didn't feel like I got my questions answered."
Lee said he is even more concerned about the "flippant attitude" of the briefers -- "both with regard to the underlying facts of 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," Lee told MacCallum. "It 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, and it's not something that we can countenance. We've been drifting for decades away from the constitutional separation of powers in which Congress only wields the power to declare war."
Lee repeated that he supports the way President Trump has wielded his power as commander in chief. "I do think the people who briefed the United States Senate today did him a great disservice."
Lee said the briefers included the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the Acting Director of National Intelligence and the head of the CIA.
"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."
Lee said the briefers also refused to answer questions about the nature of the imminent attack that supposedly would have happened if Soleimani had not been killed on Friday.
"And they should have told us," Lee said.
‘Less than satisfying’
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he also has decided to support Kaine's war powers resolution:
I wanted to hear the intelligence first. What I heard was less than satisfying. But one of the arguments that's been bandied about in public, I think, is particularly insulting to logic, the Constitution, and the intent of our Founding Fathers.
The argument has been made that the use of authorization of force, voted on in 2002 to go to war with Saddam Hussein and his government, is justification for anything they want to do in Iraq today, including killing an Iranian general.
I see no way in the world you could logically argue that an authorization to have war with Saddam Hussein has anything to do with having war with people currently in Iraq.
I think we need to have a debate about the separation of powers. I, too, am a supporter of the president. I consider myself to be a friend of the president. I think the president's instincts on trying to show restraint and keep us out of war are good. I frankly think he will not unnecessarily escalate things.
However, the debate is bigger than just this debate.
Paul noted that the debate over use of force began in 1950 with President Truman going to war in Korea. "Our duty under the Constitution is for us to debate when we go to war, and we, for one, are not going to abdicate that duty," Paul said.
Later, Paul was invited to elaborate on CNN:
“If we need to be at war, we debate it in the open, in public and we have a public vote in the Senate and the House. That's the way you go to war.
"Now, we're not quite at war, and I hope this will be an isolated killing. And look, I'm fan of the president. I think the president has shown remarkable restraint in many areas of foreign policy. But on the idea of who has the power -- whether it's a Republican or a Democrat president -- I'm consistent. The Constitution gave that power to Congress, and Congress has abdicated that power. Mike Lee and I are standing up for it."
Host Wolf Blitzer asked Paul, “Do you believe the strike on Soleimani was wrong, or are you just upset about the process?”
“Well, it's a little bit of both,” Paul said:
I think that constitutionally, presidents need to ask for permission to go to war, and I think killing a major general of another country is an act of war. Do I mourn for Soleimani? No, I think he was an evil person.
But the question isn't whether someone is evil. It's whether or not eradicating that evil person will lead to a better outcome for America, for our country.
So Saddam Hussein was an evil guy. But when we got rid of him, Iraq descended into chaos, and now Iran is allied with Iran. The whole irony of this is now we’re still plowing billions of dollars into Iraq, but Iraq likes Iran better than us. Iran is more of a menace because of the Iraq war.
This is what the Cheneys never understood. They gave us this war. They’re still unrepentant. And much of the Republican caucus is still guided and still loves the Cheney philosophy that the Iraq war was great. But the Iraq war led to this mess. President trump actually gets that. That's one of the things I like about him. But still we have a tug of war over whose power it is.