HARTFORD, CT — They had intended to talk about impeachment, but the U.S. military strike in Iran and the killing of Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, could not be ignored by Connecticut’s senators.
At a Legislative Office Building press conference Friday, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy called on the Trump administration to brief Congress on what it’s doing to protect Americans in the Middle East and here at home following the air strike. They also want to understand the rationale for the strike since there is no Congressional authorization of military force against Iran.
“I’m deeply concerned about the dangers of a costly, long-term military confrontation with Iran,” Blumenthal said. “The dangers of attacks on Americans.”
Blumenthal said the “rationale and the strategy, if there is one,” has not been forthcoming from the administration.
In a statement Thursday, the Pentagon said, “This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.” It also said the Dec. 27 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was approved by Soleimani.
Murphy said it’s critical for the administration to tell Congress why this strike was necessary and what steps they’re taking to prevent a war.
Blumenthal said he learned about the events by watching the news. He said the administration did not brief any Congressional committees and “whether they contacted any leaders remains to be seen.”
Asked if Trump authorized the strike to distract from his impeachment, Blumenthal and Murphy said they don’t know the president’s motivations.
“For the time being, I’m going to choose to take the administration at its word that it thought there were imminent attacks against the United States,” Murphy said Friday. “Obviously with this president you have to worry about ulterior motives. He made it clear he is willing to use the national security tools at his disposal in order to advance his personal political priorities. That is, in fact, the subject of the impeachment trial. I refuse to come to any judgment about this particular action until I have heard from the administration.”
Murphy, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said “ The question we have to be asking ourselves today is whether Qasem Soleimani is more dangerous to the United States alive or dead as a martyr who will now rally the Iranian government and Iranian proxies around the world?”
Murphy said the “assassination” will likely do greater harm to U.S. interests.
“The question going forward is whether the administration has given any thought to manage the fallout that comes from such a drastic action,” Murphy said. “This is the equivalent of the Iranians assassinating the U.S. Secretary of Defense.”
Murphy said if that happened the U.S. would consider it an “act of war and we would respond disproportionately. I think we need to expect that the Iranians will also act disproportionately. I do not believe the administration has gamed out how very badly this could go for the U.S. and our interests.”
Murphy said, “It’s debatable as to whether there’s a legal justification for this strike. There is no debate that the War Powers Act requires the administration to now come before Congress and ask for authorization for any future military activity against Iran.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN Friday that Soleimani was planning an imminent attack in the region, but declined to elaborate.
“At the very least the administration deserves to tell us the truth about what happened and American security interests moving forward,” Murphy said. “They are not off to a good start today. They are not telling Americans about the consequences of what they did.”
Blumenthal, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said he can’t know the motivations, “but I can see the ramifications.”
He said all his concerns about this air strike would be the same even without an impeachment trial pending and he wants a public explanation to Congress and the American people regardless.
“Impeachment is also a matter of national security,” Blumenthal said. “The president has been impeached for holding hostage taxpayer-funded, military assistance to a friend and ally, literally fighting for its life against Russian aggression in return for assistance to him personally.”
Blumenthal said some of his Republican colleagues have expressed “misgivings” about how their party plans to proceed with the Senate impeachment trial.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska “show that the McConnell wall is seeming to crack,” Blumenthal said. “But whether our colleagues who have expressed those same misgivings privately will put them publicly and whether any of them will act on them remains to be seen.”
Democrats have to convince four Republican Senators to join them in a vote for what they believe may be more equitable rules for an impeachment trial that would include documents and witnesses.
Murphy agreed that impeachment is a national security issue.
That’s because the president, according to Murphy, has “telegraphed to allies and would-be allies that you do business with the United States, you will be subject to the president’s personal political priorities.”
Meanwhile, Republicans celebrated Trump’s decisive action in Iran.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James E. Risch of Idaho tweeted, “Congratulations to President Trump on his decisive action and the successful outcome … As I have previously warned the Iranian government, they should not mistake our reasonable restraint in response to their previous attacks as weakness.”
Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, “The President acted decisively to protect our country, diplomats, service members and citizens.”
“For months, President Trump exercised restraint in the face of repeated hostility. Iran’s aggression continued to escalate,” McCaul said. “I encourage Iran to finally stand down and discontinue their attacks on Americans.”