But even considering that, Lee’s summary of the administration’s Iran briefing Wednesday is stunning.
Standing next to Paul, Lee made a point to say that he supports President Trump’s general foreign policy, which has often sought to pull the United States out of Middle Eastern conflicts. But then he proceeded to accuse the administration of slyly trying to sideline Congress — allegedly for the good of the cause — in the debate over Iran and whether the killing of Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani was warranted.
There have already been plenty of questions about the intelligence used to justify the Soleimani strike, most notably when it comes to the Trump administration’s claim that Soleimani was planning “imminent” attacks on Americans. But Lee described a very different problem: one in which it was explained to him and others that any potential dissent wasn’t helpful to the Trump administration or the country.
Lee labeled the briefing on Iran “probably the worst briefing I have seen, at least on a military issue, in the nine years I’ve served in the United States Senate.”
He added: “What I found so distressing about the briefing is 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 will be emboldening Iran.’ ”
He added: “The implication being that somehow we would be making America less safe by having a debate or a discussion about the appropriateness of further military involvement against the government of Iran. Now, I find this insulting and demeaning — not personally, but to the office that each of the 100 persons in this building happens to hold.”
Lee said he found the idea that debate would weaken the cause “very insulting."
The result of the briefing, according to Lee, was that he decided to support a Democratic-led resolution on war powers. “That briefing is what changed my mind,” he said. “I walked into the briefing undecided; I walked out decided — specifically because of what happened in that briefing.” Paul took the same position.
To be clear, Lee isn’t describing lacking evidence when it comes to the strike on Soleimani, which some Democrats have alluded to; he is saying that the administration has said that any potential dissent is to be avoided.
That’s perhaps something you’d expect an administration to say privately, but not out loud and not to skeptical senators such as Lee and Paul. The fact that it was allegedly uttered in a classified briefing — in the presence of the likes of Lee and Paul — appears to have been a remarkable miscalculation on behalf of the administration.
The GOP has enough votes in the Senate without Lee and Paul to help its policy along, but Lee’s very severe rebuke should register when it comes to its ongoing plans with regards to Iran — and when it comes to pretty much any presidential prerogative. It appears the administration has some explaining to do.