Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is a serious constitutional scholar.
He grew up around the law and has a profound respect for the Constitution, its structure and purpose, and in particular, the separation of powers. His father, Rex Lee, was the 37th solicitor general of the United States, from 1981 to 1985.
So it is no surprise that Lee was peeved Wednesday when senior Trump administration officials—who briefed senators on the military operation Friday that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani—would not answer his questions and concerns about separation of powers.
Despite media reports to the contrary, Lee was not criticizing the killing of Suleimani, nor was he “breaking with the president.”
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Let’s unpack this.
The headlines blared that Lee said it was the “the worst military briefing ever on Iran.” True, he said that.
But what bothered Lee was not—as the media want you to believe—that he disagreed with the administration over the killing of Suleimani under the facts and circumstances. Rather, it was the briefers’ comments that Congress should not debate an authorization for use of military force with Iran, contending that such a debate would weaken the administration’s position with respect to Iran, and their unwillingness to answer the separation of powers issues.
The Constitution assigns to Congress the power to declare war under Article I, Section 8, Clause 11. As I wrote recently, the Constitution does not dictate how Congress should declare war, just that it has the authority to declare war.