President Donald Trump’s decision to kill a top Iranian general and risk a war without consulting lawmakers has prompted Republican griping, with even close Trump allies going on the record to rein in the President’s power to escalate things further.
That’s in part because, a full week after the airstrike that killed Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the White House has yet to offer a clear, consistent articulation of what “imminent” attack the US was trying to avoid — and, in fact, top administration officials are offering conflicting justifications, raising key constitutional questions.
While Republicans have largely fallen in line on the question of whether Trump should be allowed to pressure a foreign country — Ukraine — to undermine his political rival, they are exerting a few flashes of independence from the White House when it comes to attacking Iran.
The President has made specific allegations about the necessity of killing Soleimani. His top aides have remained much more oblique, making it seem as if they are trying to cloud the record without contradicting their boss.
Of course, ignoring Congress and fighting over policy and funding with lawmakers has been a constant of Trump’s presidency, even during his first two years, when Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate.
Those fights intensified when Democrats took control of the House a year ago, leading to a record-setting government shutdown in early 2019. Then, when Trump blew off questions about his pressure on Ukraine to investigate his political rivals and tried to squash a congressional investigation, House Democrats impeached him for it.
Trump’s decision to kill an Iranian general and tempt war without consulting Congress was of a different order, and created a national security crisis that puts American lives at risk. And Congress, like the public, has been kept in the dark on some of the most important intelligence.
It’s an important question because, if there was no imminent threat of danger to Americans, the killing veers from anti-terror operation to political assassination. The Constitution, which gives Congress the power to declare war, did not envision that sort of power.
Here’s what the administration has said so far — and why it matters.