SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee fumed Wednesday over a briefing on last week’s U.S. airstrike that killed an Iranian general, calling it the worst he’s ever seen.
“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 Utah Republican told reporters after the 75-minute, closed-door meeting.
“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 that I’ve served in the United States Senate,” Lee said.
He found the message to not discuss or debate the appropriateness of further military action against Iran so distressing, that Lee said he now favors a Democratic resolution to limit President Donald Trump’s ability to act without congressional approval.
“I walked into the briefing undecided, I walked out decided, specifically because of what happened in that briefing,” Lee said.
Senators were told that talking about further military action would embolden Iran and weaken the American cause, making the country less safe, he said.
“I find this insulting and demeaning,” Lee said, adding not personally but to the office of senator and to the Constitution.
GOP Sen. Mike Lee says he has decided to support Dem. Sen. Tim Kaine's war powers resolution following Iran briefing by Trump administration that he called "insulting."— ABC News (@ABC) January 8, 2020
"That briefing is what changed my mind...I'm now going to support it." https://t.co/qzxd9ccTOBpic.twitter.com/maRrNJSKzo
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., last week introduced a war powers resolution to force a debate and vote in Congress to prevent further escalation of hostilities with Iran. It is set for a vote in the Senate as soon as next week.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky, is also supporting the measure.
The House is scheduled to vote on a resolution Thursday that would force Trump to end hostilities against Iran unless he gets specific authorization from Congress.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told CNN that Lee and Paul are overreacting.
“Go debate all you want to. I’m going to debate you,” he said. “I’m going to let people know that at this moment in time to play this game with the War Powers Act, which I think is unconstitutional, is, whether you mean to or not, empowering the enemy.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called the debate over the president’s authority with regard to hostilities “one of the great, amorphous issues” that has been around Washington for a long time.
“The president, I believe, acted within the authority as understood now,” he said of last week’s airstrike. “But I recognize if we were, for instance, to go to war with another country, whether Iran or any other, that that would require congressional approval.”
Drawing the line of what it means to go to war has been difficult, he said.
“There’ve been many attempts, both Republicans and Democrats, to try and draw that line as to what a president can do without congressional authority and what can he do only with congressional authority, and so far, no one has succeeded in being able to draw a clear distinction,” Romney said.
Romney talked to Kaine about his proposal Tuesday.
“But I’m not at this stage comfortable with any of the proposals seen so far to make that delineation,” he said.
It’s un-American. It’s unconstitutional and it’s wrong.
–Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah
Lee said it’s “very insulting” for the administration to try to stifle Senate debate on a war powers resolution.
“It is not acceptable for officials within the executive branch, 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,” he said. “It’s un-American. It’s unconstitutional and it’s wrong.”
Lee said the government owes the American people the “decent courtesy” of following the Constitution before sending troops into harm’s way.
“These powers are not ours. They don’t belong to any of us,” he said. “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,” he said. “I find it completely unacceptable.”
Contributing: Matt Brown, Deseret News