Hill Democrats, Republicans remain at odds after national security officials make their case for Iran strike

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Despite the White House showing restraint towards Iran after their missile attacks last night in Iraq came up short, and receiving praise from World Leaders in doing so, including, Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and Turkey’s President Erdogan (who offered to be a communication channel in negotiations – as reported today by foreign affairs correspondent Benjamin Hall of Fox News),  U.S. Congressmen on both sides of the aisle are divided in their thoughts.  Here’s a report from Karoun Demirjian and Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post that sums up where we stand, and quotes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of criticizing the White House for not having a coherent strategy to keep the American people safe…not sure if Pelosi remembers the past two administrations that kept the war against ISIS going without having an “exit strategy” themselves.  Here’s the report:

House Republicans were satisfied and Democrats exasperated by Wednesday’s Iran briefing from top national security officials, during which they argued that President Trump had legal authority to kill a top military commander without seeking Congress’s permission — and that he did so to ward off an imminent threat.

“Sophomoric and utterly unconvincing,” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees said upon exiting the closed-door briefing, adding that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, CIA director Gina Haspel and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley made “no case” that Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani posed an imminent threat.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a Trump confidante who also sits on both committees, emerged from the same briefing calling it “the strongest and most decisive briefing that has ever been conducted in that classified setting,” praising Haspel especially for sharing “compelling” and “exhaustive” evidence about the need for the strike.

“It leaves little doubt in my mind and certainly should leave little doubt in any member’s mind that not only did the president make the right call, but that this was a clear and present danger for American interests and American individuals,” Meadows said.

The contrasting observations came as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that Democrats will push forward with a war powers resolution to restrain Trump’s ability to take further military action against Iran.

The Administration must work with the Congress to advance an immediate, effective de-escalatory strategy that prevents further violence,” Pelosi said in a statement announcing a Thursday vote on the measure. “America and the world cannot afford war.”

Trump, she said, “has made clear that he does not have a coherent strategy to keep the American people safe, achieve de-escalation with Iran and ensure stability in the region.”

In the Senate, Democrats will be able to insist early next week on a floor vote for Sen. Tim Kaine’s (D-Va.) war powers resolution, which he filed last Friday. The House and Senate would have to pass the same measure to send it to Trump’s desk — and Senate Democrats would have to muster enough Republican support to get it through that chamber.

After Wednesday’s briefing for House members, the administration officials moved to the Senate where they were expected to make a similar case to lawmakers assembled there. But the initial competing assessments of House Republicans and Democrats suggest there is little hope for the parties to reach common ground on how Congress should respond to Trump’s decision to take out Soleimani.

Republicans went into Wednesday’s briefings praising Trump’s actions as prudent steps that rid the world of a terrorist who posed a grave threat to the United States and its interests, while Democrats have in recent days argued that even if Soleimani was reprehensible, the strike to kill him was “reckless,” considering its potential to escalate tensions in the region.

Iran retaliated by firing missiles at a U.S. coalition base in Iraq overnight, but avoided killing any Americans or Iraqis — leading Trump to conclude in an address Wednesday morning that Tehran “appears to be standing down” and de-escalating the conflict. Though the president made his comments flanked by Vice President Pence, Pompeo and several military leaders, he did not endorse additional hostile action against Iran.

Instead, the president promised that the administration would “immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime.”

Nevertheless, the apparent de-escalation has not quelled Democrats’ desire to assert its authority over Trump’s moves.

According to several members present for the House briefing, administration officials staked their claim to legal authority on two grounds: the president’s authority as the military’s commander in chief, and an authorization for military force (AUMF) that Congress passed in 2002, paving the way for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“Either one could be used to authorize what they did,” said Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, approving of the rationale.

“Absurd,” Connolly said of the 2002 AUMF, which, he argued, “of course had nothing to do with Iran.”

  • 01/08/20
  • Karoun Demirjian and Mike DeBonis