Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) ripped the Trump administration's "lame" attempt to brief Congress following the Soleimani strike. Lee said the Constitution requires a declaration of war or an authorization of use of military force, not a "drive-by notification" from the executive branch after the fact.
"It was probably the worst briefing I've seen at least on a military issue in the nine years I've served," Lee said Wednesday. "A declaration of war or an AUMF is what the Constitution requires and drive-by notification, or after the fact, lame briefings like the one we just received aren't adequate."
"It is not acceptable for officials within the executive branch of government I don't care whether they are 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 is un-American. It is unconstitutional and it is wrong and I--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," Lee said.
SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): We just left a briefing and we were talking about Iran. I--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 has been reluctant to get us involved in wars all over the globe. He has been very mindful and respectful of the fact that when the American people are asked to give up blood and treasure, sending off their sons and their daughters, their moms and their dads into battlefield, and he is 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 will leave that to another day. 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 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 have 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 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 of 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--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 have 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.
Alexander Hamilton in Federalist number 69 made clear that this was a sharp contrast from the form of government that we had prior to the revolution, a form of government in which the executive, the king, have the power to take us to war, he did not need the parliament to weigh in on it to support it. That was the parliament's job after the fact after we had gone into war. This Hamilton explained in Federalist 69 was exactly the reason why this power was put in article 1 section 8 in the branch of government most accountable to the people with the most regular intervals.
When we send our brave soldiers, sailors, and airmen and Marines into harm's way, we owe the American people the decent courtesy to follow the Constitution, to debate and discuss these actions. For them to tell us that either through a War Powers Act resolution or otherwise for us to debate and discuss these things on the Senate floor would somehow weaken the American cause and embolden Iran in any other actions I find very insulting.
Now look, I hope that they will come back and they will say you misunderstood us we didn't say that at all. I wish I could believe that. I will note that when those words were uttered, not one of the briefers stood in objection; not one of the briefers pushed back on that and said we want to make clear that this is still the constitutional prerogative of Congress.
I also want to make clear that I walked into that briefing undecided as to whether to support a resolution under the War Powers Act introduced by Senator Kaine. Now Senator Kaine and I have had some discussions. I have got some concerns with some of the language particularly in some of the whereas clauses that he has introduced, he has agreed to make some changes and I can say that after that briefing--that briefing is what changed my mind. That briefing is what brought me on board together with the amendments that Senator Kaine has agreed to make.
I'm now going to support it. I walked into the briefing undecided, I walked out decided specifically because of what happened in that briefing. It is not acceptable for officials within the executive branch of government I don't care whether they are 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 is un-American. It is unconstitutional and it is wrong and I--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.
This is not about us; it is not about any one of us. This is about our fidelity to those that we represent. These powers are not ours, they don't belong to any of us but when we allow them to be exercised through the wrong branches of government with the wrong process when you don't have debate and discussion you don't allow the process itself to correct itself for the American people who will be most affected by these decisions to weigh in. That was insulting.
That was demeaning to the process ordained by the Constitution and I find it completely unacceptable. On that basis, I have decided to support Senator Kaine's resolution subject to the minor amendments that he and I discussed earlier today...
REPORTER: Did you guys--I know there is very little you can say about the details, could you give us a better sense of who exactly was saying this to you that you shouldn't debate this? Was it all of them, was it a specific cabinet member or agency director?
LEE: You know before I comment on that publicly, I would really like to have a conversation with the president so I can make him aware of what we were told and by whom. But I will say that the messages we receive didn't get any pushback internally from the briefers.
What we were told over and over again was look this action was necessary, this was a bad guy, we--we had to do it and we can't have division, we can't have dissension within our ranks, within our government or else it sends the wrong signal to the Iranians. I just I think that is completely wrong.
They were asked repeatedly what if anything would trigger the need for the administration to come back to Congress for a declaration of war or an authorization for the use of military force. At one point, I believe one of the briefers said something along the lines of I am sure we can think of something but they struggled to identify anything. They were asked specifically what about if you--if you concluded well, it's not my point to get into that here. I don't want to accidentally say anything classified.
My point is they were asked a number of hypotheticals about situations in which they might have to appropriately come and ask for authorization from Congress. Not once did they say yes we would need to do it in that circumstance. At one point, one of the briefers said something like don't worry, we will consult you. Well, with history as our guide consultation isn't necessarily the same thing as authorization for the use of military force. A declaration of war or an AUMF is what the Constitution requires and drive-by notification, or after the fact, lame briefings like the one we just received aren't adequate.