WASHINGTON — Hawaii’s four congressional representatives left a closed-door briefing Wednesday unconvinced the death of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani was necessary to stave off an imminent threat to the U.S.
The federal delegation — all of them Democrats — support passing a war powers resolution to limit President Donald Trump’s ability to take further military action against Iran without congressional approval.
The House is scheduled to vote on the resolution Thursday.
The drone strike ordered by Trump killed Soleimani at an airport in Baghdad. On Wednesday, the president and top administration officials defended the strike in a nationally televised address and two classified briefings before Congress.
The administration’s justifications came after Iran fired ballistic missiles on two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops as a form of retaliation.
In an interview with Civil Beat, Hawaii Rep. Ed Case said he couldn’t talk about the specifics of what was said behind closed doors Wednesday, only that it left him unconvinced that Soleimani presented an imminent threat that justified Trump circumventing Congress.
“This president has fundamentally ignored the role of Congress and I believe that is not only incredibly dangerous in this context, but it is incredibly bad precedent for this country,” Case said. “I think this president has taken the view that Congress really is irrelevant to the decisions that he makes.”
Case, who had previously declined to talk about his views on the Soleimani killing, issued a two-page written statement after the briefing. He was particularly concerned that the president took military action without congressional approval. He also questioned whether the president considered the ramifications of executing a top military leader from another country.
“Soleimani certainly contributed to a dangerous world, but is it more or less dangerous with him gone in this fashion?” Case asked. “We can welcome his demise, but we should not and cannot avoid these questions.”
“Without real answers from the President,” Case added, “I fear that this was a rash action to roll the dice on results with far-flung and unpredictable consequences that will be with our country and world for decades.”
Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard expressed similar views after Wednesday’s briefing.
In an interview with CNN, Gabbard said administration officials provided Congress with vague comments and little justification for Soleimani’s killing, an action she described as an “illegal and unconstitutional act of war.”
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard quickly came out to condemn the killing of Qasem Soleimani.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
“They failed to provide any compelling information to prove their point of imminence,” Gabbard said. “Really, it brings us to the central question here, which is: Is our country’s national security better off because of Donald Trump’s actions and decisions? The answer to that is no.”
Gabbard, a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard, is running for president on an anti-war platform.
She took a break from campaigning in New Hampshire so that she could participate in Wednesday’s briefing and an anticipated vote on a war powers resolution.
In a 16-minute video posted to her campaign’s Facebook account, she warned that going to war with Iran would be more devastating than anything experienced in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“Now is a time for diplomacy,” Gabbard said. “Now is a time for Trump to lead and to end this tit for tat cycle of escalation. We don’t know what else could happen or will happen, but the point is now is the time for leadership.”
She said that as president she would re-enter the Obama era Iran nuclear agreement that Trump withdrew from in 2018.
Additionally, she said she would lift economic sanctions against the country that only serve to heighten tensions. Removing U.S. troops from Iraq and Syria, Gabbard added, should also be a priority.
“This is about something much bigger than politics,” Gabbard said. “This is about what’s in the best interest of our country.”
On Tuesday, just days after Soleimani’s death, her campaign began selling T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, “No War With Iran.”
Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono also raised concerns following Wednesday’s briefing.
While Soleimani has been blamed for the deaths of hundreds of Americans over the years, Hirono said, she did not hear anything new that justified Trump’s targeted drone strike in Baghdad.
“I came to the conclusion that this was an impulsive action,” Hirono said in an interview with Civil Beat.
Sen. Mazie Hirono says Trump’s decision to kill an Iranian military leader was impulsive.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
“We knew that this general was a bad guy, and he was going to be a continuing concern for us, but the explanation that they provided was more historical in nature.”
If anything, she said, the briefing, combined with Trump’s statements earlier in the day, made it clear to her that Congress needed to act in order to prevent further escalation between the U.S. and Iran.
She said she doesn’t trust the Trump administration to find a diplomatic solution so long as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — whose hawkish views on Iran are well known — is in charge of carrying it out.
Hirono said Trump “threw down the gauntlet” when he announced at the beginning of his speech Wednesday that Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon as long as he is president.
That sets the stage for future aggression by the Trump administration should Iran pursue its nuclear program, a scenario that’s all the more likely considering Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2018.
“These continue to be very uncertain times,” she said.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz was unavailable for an interview with Civil Beat. On Twitter, he expressed the same concerns as many of his Democratic colleagues about increased tensions with Iran.
“If you oppose endless wars,” he said, “oppose Trump.”
Both Hirono and Schatz are co-sponsors of a war powers resolution that was introduced by U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia.
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