Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) bitterly complained that President Trump left her and other congressional leaders out of the loop before taking out Iran’s top general in a surprise airstrike Thursday.
Trump and his allies seem just fine with that.
Distrust between Trump and Pelosi is at an all-time high. Just two weeks ago, Pelosi led House Democrats in a mostly party-line vote to make Trump just the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. Now, Pelosi and Trump’s congressional allies are locked in a standoff over the shape of the Senate impeachment trial, preventing it from moving forward as Trump demands a speedy acquittal.
Trump’s ordering of the airstrike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani — and his decision not to give a heads-up to Pelosi, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and others in the so-called Gang of Eight — has exacerbated the already fraught relationship between Trump and congressional Democrats, as well as the high tensions between the executive and legislative branches.
Democrats, having been left in the dark about a key military decision, warn that Trump’s actions will surely be met with retaliation from Tehran and could propel the U.S. into yet another war in the Middle East.
“The need for advance consultation and transparency with Congress was put in the Constitution for a reason, because the lack of advance consultation and transparency with Congress can lead to hasty and ill-considered decisions,” Schumer said Friday afternoon from the Senate floor. “When the security of the nation is at stake, decisions must not be made in a vacuum.”
Schumer confirmed that he did not get advance notice from the Trump administration about the airstrike. Neither did Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee who would traditionally be informed about significant military operations as part of the Gang of Eight that’s comprised of top bipartisan congressional and Intelligence Committee leaders in both chambers.
An aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had no comment on the lack of notification, while aides to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), the top House Intelligence Committee Republican, didn’t return requests for comment.
But McCarthy and McConnell expressed support for the airstrike, with the Senate GOP leader adding that a classified briefing for all senators is in the works for next week.
Soleimani served as commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force and was considered one of Iran’s most powerful military figures. Iranian leaders have vowed “revenge” and “harsh retaliation” against the U.S. for the attack.
“General Qassem Soleimani has killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more…but got caught!” Trump tweeted Friday morning.
Pelosi spoke with Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Thursday night to get more information after the airstrike. The Speaker said in a statement that the Trump administration conducted the strike without a formal authorization for use of military force against Iran or consultation with Congress.
“The full Congress must be immediately briefed on this serious situation and on the next steps under consideration by the Administration, including the significant escalation of the deployment of additional troops to the region,” Pelosi said.
At least one GOP lawmaker was told of the plan to target Soleimani. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told “Fox & Friends” on Friday morning that he was briefed while in Florida earlier this week, where he was spotted on Monday golfing with Trump at the president’s resort.
“I was briefed about the potential operation when I was down in Florida,” Graham said Friday. “I appreciate being brought into the orbit. I really appreciate President Trump letting the world know you cannot kill an American without impunity.”
Trump’s top allies on Capitol Hill defended his decision to forgo notifying congressional leaders. They said an all-member briefing on the Soleimani killing and overall tensions with Iran would likely come next week, when House lawmakers are slated to return to Washington.
“The action had to be taken in a decisive and covert manner. The president absolutely made the right call at the right time. The target was responsible for multiple deaths and was in the process of planning additional terrorist attacks on US interests,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told The Hill on Friday.
“When strategic and tactical decisions are made in real time, congressional notification is often required to be after the fact,” the former dom Caucus chairman said.
This was not the first time Trump has kept top Democrats out of the loop before a major military action. His team declined to brief Democrats before the late October raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, citing concerns that the news would leak.
The Oct. 27 strike came as Democrats were deep into their inquiry of Trump’s efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate his political opponents, which led to the House voting to impeach him the week before Christmas.
“We notified some; others are being notified now as I speak,” Trump said at a press conference in October. “We were going to notify them last night, but we decided not to do that because Washington leaks like nothing I’ve ever seen before. There’s no country in the world that leaks like we do. Washington is a leaking machine.”
Trump said that he did, however, notify the Russian government in advance that the U.S. was “going over an area where they had a lot of firepower” but didn’t detail the raid’s intent to kill al-Baghdadi.
The debate over when and whether the White House should properly notify Congress about sensitive military action predates Trump’s presidency. The Obama administration notified lawmakers, including then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), about plans to launch airstrikes against ISIS militants in Iraq in 2014. But that came only a few months after the Obama administration declined to notify Congress about the exchange of five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay for the release of American POW Bowe Bergdahl.
Democrats called on the Trump administration to at least provide Congress with its strategy in Iran, given the country’s pledge to retaliate against the U.S.
“The law requires notification so the President can’t plunge the United States into ill-considered wars. We must also hear without delay from senior officials about this action and their plans to deal with the aftermath,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.).
Alexander Bolton contributed.