Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), a co-chairman of President Donald Trump's Utah Reelection Board, took the rare step of dissenting against the Trump administration after a Senate briefing on the merits of Trump's drone strike that killed top Iranian military official, Qasem Soleimani.
The briefing came just one day after Iran deployed retaliatory strikes on two Iraqi military bases where U.S. troops are stationed.
Most Republican Senators praised the President as they emerged from the 75 minute closed door hearing, but a furious Lee didn't hold back in expressing his dissatisfaction with top Defense Department officials' explanations for why Trump took the drastic step of killing Soleimani without notifying Congress.
Full initial remarks from MIKE LEE: - “Unsatisfied” with "legal, factual and moral justification for the attack”… https://t.co/cjuAON90JH— JM Rieger (@JM Rieger) 1578520124.0
After initially praising Donald Trump, Lee began to criticize the information (or lack thereof) given by defense officials during the briefing:
"I had hoped and expected to receive more information outlining the legal, factual, and moral justification for the attack. I was left somewhat unsatisfied on that front...This however, is not the biggest problem I have with the briefing, which I would add 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."
He went on to describe what really bothered him about the hearing.
"What I found so distressing about that briefing is 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'll be emboldening Iran,' the implication being that we would somehow be making America less safe by having a discussion about the appropriateness of further military involvement against the government of Iran."Lee was insulted by certain implications from the briefers
"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 demeaning to the Constitution of the United States to which we've all sworn an oath. It is, after all, the prerogative of the Legislative Branch to declare war."
Then, he dropped some news.
"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 [Tim] Kaine [D-VA]. Now, Senator Kaine and I have had some discussions. I've got some concerns with some of the language...and I can say that after briefing, that briefing is what changed my mind. That briefing has brought me on board. Together with the amendments Senator Kaine has agreed to make. I'm going to support it."
Senator Kaine was Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's running mate in 2016, and now he's introduced a resolution aimed at limiting the President's ability to further escalate the situation in Iran.
According to a statement from Kaine:
"The resolution requires that any hostilities with Iran must be explicitly authorized by a declaration of war or specific authorization for use of military force, but does not prevent the United States from defending itself from imminent attack."
With Lee and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) likely supporting the resolution, only two more Republican Senators would be needed to pass it. It would almost certainly pass the House where it would even more certainly be vetoed by Trump, thereby going back to the Senate and requiring an all but unattainable supermajority to override the veto.
Lee directed his final comments to officials within the Executive Branch.
"It is not acceptable for officials within the Executive Branch of government—I don't care if they're 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's un-American. It's unconstitutional. And it's wrong."
People commended Lee for being one of the few Senators to speak out against Trump's hastiness.
This video is simply amazing. @SenMikeLee makes a powerful case for Congress to act -- now -- along the lines I jus… https://t.co/NMQ5IxeLwk— Greg Sargent (@Greg Sargent) 1578520936.0
Wow! Kudos to a Republican for saying a word of dissent against the dictator-in-chief. And what he said should di… https://t.co/b4IrdQfoMU— Laura N. Hudlow (@Laura N. Hudlow) 1578520322.0
holy GOP dissent batman https://t.co/ILB2kA8rnC— 🌊 JillyB 💙 (@🌊 JillyB 💙) 1578519944.0
The Mike Lee comments are amazing because they make every other Republican who came out of the briefing praising it… https://t.co/EqjQ8uhlsb— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn Torabi) 1578519812.0
This is what tribalism gets you -- a blind lockstep march behind nothing. God bless Mike Lee for having the courage… https://t.co/L5Wr5K3ni9— Heath Mayo (@Heath Mayo) 1578522296.0
Others reminded Lee—a fervent Trump supporter—of other atrocities and ethical breaches committed by the Executive Branch in the last three years.
This is really welcome from Mike Lee. But let's apply it to some other issues. https://t.co/7Tcy1CnbdK— emptywheel (@emptywheel) 1578520371.0
Damn, if Mike Lee is this pissed over a bad military briefing from the White House, wait until he finds out that Tr… https://t.co/NLjsQMeSgw— Charlotte Clymer🏳️🌈 (@Charlotte Clymer🏳️🌈) 1578519959.0
The Senator from Utah isn't dissenting out of political gain either: Trump won Utah in 2016 by 19 percent.