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Congress’ Chance to Rein in Illegal Warfare

The Trump administration’s briefing of members of Congress on their justification for the Soleimani assassination went over very badly with many of the members in attendance. Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah was reportedly livid:

Sen. Rand Paul had much the same reaction:

Likewise, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy left the briefing unconvinced that the administration’s strike was justified:

Both senators have been important defenders of Congress’ role in matters of war, and they were co-sponsors of the Senate version of the Yemen antiwar resolution last year. Lee takes these constitutional questions seriously, and the administration’s lack of respect for these principles has understandably outraged him. The administration’s briefing to members of Congress appears to have been as arrogant, mendacious, and slipshod as their public statements on this issue. There seems to be some real momentum in Congress to challenge the president over the illegal attack he ordered last week, and that could end up putting some real constraints on the executive in matters of war.

The administration’s dismissive and contemptuous attitude towards the Constitution does not surprise me. It is the same one we have seen on display in public all week, and we saw it last year during the Yemen debate. They are afraid to debate these policies and actions on the merits because they have no justification, and an open debate exposes that to public scrutiny. The administration has to try to shame and intimidate members of Congress into foregoing debate because they know that the case for this strike is exceptionally weak. It is encouraging that the administration’s contempt for the Constitution is provoking a backlash, and that suggests that there is a real chance here for Congress to reassert its proper constitutional role in matters of war and peace.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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