It’s always wise to preface articles like these by noting that any dissent against Trump within the Republican ranks usually ends the same way: With the dissenters completely caving, oftentimes in the most craven way imaginable, while never taking any meaningful action against Trump, even in their votes, before the inevitable capitulation.
Armed with that context, and fully forewarned, it’s worth looking at the reactions of Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) following the Wednesday briefing from the White House on the Qassem Soleimani assassination. This isn’t some Susan Collins-style “serious reservations” politicking; they seem genuinely mad. Here’s Mike Lee, per the Times:
He blasted the administration for what he called a shoddy briefing on the president’s strategy on Iran, delivered in what he described as an “insulting and demeaning” way by administration officials he said were unwilling to engage in a genuine discussion about a possible military escalation in the Middle East.
The message, Mr. Lee said, was: “Do not debate, do not discuss the issue of the appropriateness of further military intervention against Iran. If you do, you will be emboldening Iran.”
Lee called it, “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…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. I find that absolutely insane. I think it’s unacceptable.”
For his part, Rand Paul was upset about the justification for the strikes, which relied on some wild logic:
“In the briefing and in public, this administration has argued that the vote to topple Saddam Hussein in 2002 applies to military action in Iraq. That is absurd,” Mr Paul said in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
“Nobody in their right mind, with a straight face, with an ounce of honesty, can argue when Congress voted to go after Saddam Hussein in 2002, that authorised military force against an Iranian general 18 years later.”
Of course, in contrast to Lee and Paul, the lickspittles definitely came out of the woodwork:
On Trump’s personal talk show, “Fox & Friends,” Mike Pence did the “trust me, it was definitely necessary” routine in response to Lee and Paul:
“To protect sources and methods, we’re simply not able to share with every member of the House and Senate the intelligence that supported the president’s decision to take out Qassem Soleimani. I can assure your viewers that there was a threat of an imminent attack,” said Pence.
Lee clarified that his problem isn’t with killing Soleimani, but with the possibility of more with Iran, which…are kinda the same thing, or at least two discrete spots on the same trajectory. His concern is about authorization for the war in the future, but the truth is that this is the price Congress pays for the strength of the executive branch. For the past four decades at least, including under the Obama administration, presidents have given themselves more power, and in cases like these, Congress has been neutered. Lee and Paul are bristling against that reality, but the truth is the executive branch doesn’t need to give them a thorough briefing, or a consultation. It should be different, and hopefully complaints like these can spur change in the relative autonomy of the White House.