Speed Reads

Word Matter

Lawmakers had mixed assessments on whether Trump's briefers justified Soleimani's killing. Pelosi had a zinger.

The White House briefed members of Congress for 75 minutes Tuesday on President Trump's decision to order the killing of a top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, and lawmakers emerged with mixed assessments of whether the Trump administration had made a persuasive case for the extraordinary move. There are legal and political reasons it matters if Soleimani's killing was an act of self-defense to stop an "imminent" attack or the assassination of a foreign government official.

The assessments largely broke down along party lines, though Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) memorably called it "probably the worst briefing I've seen, at least on a military issue, in the nine years I've served in the United States Senate." Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had the pithiest response. When told some lawmakers found it the "worst briefing," Pelosi quipped, "Well, there's stiff competition for that honor from this administration."

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told MSNBC that the classified briefing showed "there was no imminent threat to cause this assassination to happen right when it did," and "It struck me as the same kind of lies I was hearing 20 years ago, when I was a House member, about the war in Iraq." Many Republicans said they came away persuaded.

Lee said the insistence of the briefers that lawmakers fall in line and not publicly question the strike convinced him to vote with Democrats to limit Trump's warmaking powers. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called such criticism "empowering the enemy," and Lee ally Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told CNN that Graham's "low, gutter type of response" was "sad."

"I think it's sad when people have this fake sort of drape of patriotism, and anybody that disagrees with them is not a patriot," Paul said. He criticized the Soleimani killing on both constitutional and strategic grounds, and when Wolf Blitzer asked about the briefing, Paul said "there was no specific information given to us of a specific attack. Generalities, stuff you read in the newspaper, was given to us. I didn't learn anything in the hearing that I hadn't seen in a newspaper already, and none of it was overwhelming, that X was going to happen."

You can watch Lee's entire dissent below. Peter Weber