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SANDY — Members of Utah’s delegation touched on Iran, impeachment and the president’s successes during Saturday’s Eagle Forum convention.
“President Donald Trump has, in my view, been more respectful and more restrained in his exercise of his commander in chief power than any other president in my lifetime,” Sen. Mike Lee said.
Lee’s comments come just days after he publicly fumed following a military briefing on the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani on Jan. 2. He called the briefing “insulting” and said he’d hoped to receive more information about the reasons behind the attack.
While Lee praised the president Saturday, he remained critical of the congressional briefing.
Lee told attendees at the annual convention of the Utah Eagle Forum, the influential conservative political organization, that during the briefing, senators were informed, “We’d like to tell you more about what General Soleimani was planning but we can’t, at least in this setting.”
Though the meeting took place in a secured underground bunker, he said, the military officials’ response was “perhaps some other time.”
Lee described Soleimani as “very bad man” who caused the injuries of many U.S. military members. However, Lee said, “It’s important to decide what comes next” to do everything possible to avoid war.
When asked whether the president could approve a similar strike on the supreme leader of Iran without congressional approval, the officials wouldn’t answer, according to Lee.
There’s tension brewing between who has the power to approve single strikes, and who has the power to declare war, he said. Senators were told during the briefing that talking about further military action would embolden Iran and weaken the American cause, making the country less safe, according to Lee.
“We were being advised to not exercise, and not even advocate on behalf of the exercise of our power. It’s not even really our power, it’s your power,” Lee told the audience.
According to the senator, the military officials said things they wouldn’t have said in front of Trump, and that “their boss wouldn’t have approved, and the people who elected their boss wouldn’t have approved.”
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., has 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.
Lee said he placed his support behind the resolution, and believes Trump is also willing to stand up for the separation of powers.
According to Rep. John Curtis, the House saw a “rushed, less than 24 hours” to review the War Powers resolution. He said he would’ve liked a deeper hearing, and thanked Lee for “insisting on that dialogue.”
In his remarks, Rep. Chris Stewart praised the attack on Soleimani and did not mention the resolution put forth by Kaine.
“He did the right thing in Iran. He absolutely did the right thing in Iran,” Stewart said of the president.
The attack against Soleimani was a follow-up on warnings from the U.S. not to kill Americans, Stewart said. “And the president held by the red line. He actually means it when he talks about deterrents ... and Iran is going to be different today. I’m confident of that.”
On the topic of impeachment, Curtis said that both Republicans and Democrats in D.C. believe “we have weaponized impeachment. It will never be the same.”
Talk “around the cooler, in the gym” in Washington is that in the future a party offended by a president’s policies will now move to impeach, and it will become a tool of the trade, according to Curtis.
Stewart also called the impeachment proceedings “nonsense” and lacking in evidence that Trump needs to be removed from office.
“If you don’t like this president, go defeat him at the ballot box. And by the way, this president is going to win reelection in 2020, and it’s going to be a beautiful thing,” Stewart said.
Earlier, Stewart touted the strong economy, low unemployment rate and strengthening of the military since Trump took office.
Rep. Rob Bishop did not mention Iran or war powers but focused on the need for government to be less involved in decision-making that can be handled on state levels.
For example, he said, congress should not have added physical education to the No Child Left Behind Act. And when it comes to vaping flavor bans, he said, congress or states themselves should make the rules, not a federal bureaucracy. The Food and Drug Administration on Jan. 2 announced it will enforce an e-cigarette ban of flavors other than menthol and tobacco.
Bishop urged Utah to push back against the federal government on the issue of states’ rights to make more decisions.
“I am still convinced that if we had federalism, we would not have heavy deficits that we do right now,” Bishop said.