Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) on Wednesday strongly criticized Sens. Mike Lee (R–Utah) and Rand Paul (R–Ky.) after his two Republican colleagues argued that Congress should exercise its role as a lawful check on President Donald Trump's military action against Iran.
"Whether you mean to or not, you're empowering the enemy," Graham told reporters, referring to Lee and Paul's suggestion that the Senate formally discuss the constitutionality and necessity of Trump's decision to assassinate Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. "We live in the real world here," Graham added.
The South Carolina senator made his comments immediately following a press conference where Lee railed against what he called "the worst briefing [he's] seen on a military issue." During the meeting, Defense Department officials reportedly told members of Congress to fall in line with the Trump administration's course of action.
"What we were told over and over again was that…we can't have division, we can't have dissension within our ranks, within our government, or else it sends the wrong signal to the Iranians," Lee said. "I think that's completely wrong."
Sen. Tim Kaine (D–Va.) today introduced a resolution that orders "the President to remove United States Armed Forces from hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran or any part of its government or military, by not later than the date that is 30 days after the date of the enactment of this joint resolution unless explicitly authorized by a declaration of war or specific authorization for use of military force." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) introduced a similar measure in the House that will receive a full vote on Thursday.
Lee further said that when lawmakers presented Pentagon officials at the briefing with different potential war scenarios, the officials consistently demurred at going through Congress. "They were asked a number of hypotheticals about situations in which they might have to appropriately come and ask for authorization from Congress," he said. "Not once did they say yes."
After Lee's press conference, Graham sought to dismiss the Utah senator's concerns about the administration's intransigence by saying that Soleimani was a bad guy "by any definition of the law," and that "if we hadn't done something, and Americans had been killed, all of these people would be tarred and feathered."
While no elected member of either party has disputed that Soleimani was responsible for deadly violence across the Middle East, there is bipartisan concern that American military aggression against Iran will further destabilize the area and possibly the wider world. The administration has provided no evidence that Soleimani was plotting an attack on Americans, as Graham and Trump have claimed. New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi, who covers ISIS and the War on Terror, says the idea that he posed an imminent threat was an "illogical leap."
5. But as one source put it a) + b) + c) is hardly evidence of an imminent attack on American interests that could kill hundreds, as the White House has since claimed. The official describes the reading of the intelligence as an illogical leap.
— Rukmini Callimachi (@rcallimachi) January 4, 2020
History suggests that House and Senate votes on the Iran question will fall largely along party lines. Whether or not politicians express hawkish or dovish proclivities often depends on whoever is in the White House, but Lee and Paul's anti-war dispositions provide a relatively rare exception to that rule. It was actually Graham who explained it best: "You know, they're libertarians."