Murkowski ‘hesitant’ to constrain Trump’s use of military force

Sen. Lisa Murkowski. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski isn’t sure how she’ll vote on a resolution that would constrain President Donald Trump from military actions against Iran.

“My inclination right now — and I have not made a decision, I think that’s important to state — but my inclination right now is I’m hesitant to sign on to it for a host of different reasons,” she said.

Trump’s speech on Wednesday seemed to mark a de-escalation in the hostilities with Iran. But lawmakers are still considering a War Powers resolution that would require Trump to get Congressional approval for further action, unless the U.S. is under attack.

Democrats in the U.S. House are likely to pass their version of a War Powers resolution on Thursday. Whether the Senate does the same could turn in part on a handful of Republican senators like Murkowski, who do not always fall in line with party leadership.

The idea that the Republican-led Senate might pass a resolution reining Trump in seemed more possible Wednesday afternoon, when Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, emerged from a top secret Senate briefing.

“I walked into the briefing undecided, I walked out decided (to vote for the resolution),” Lee told reporters, “specifically because of what happened in that briefing.”

Lee said senators were told they should not question the U.S. military response. He didn’t say who, in particular, delivered that message.

“It is not acceptable for officials within the executive branch of government — I don’t care whether they’re with the CIA, with the Department of Defense or otherwise — to come in and tell us that we can’t debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran,” Lee said, voice raised. “It’s unAmerican. It’s unconstitutional and it’s wrong.”

Lee’s reaction was unusual among Republican senators, and the briefing seemed to have the opposite effect on Murkowski.

She issued a statement Monday commending the president for ordering the drone strike that killed General Qasem Soleimani, head of Iran’s Quds force. The administration’s briefing only re-enforced her view. 

“The expression that (Soleimani) has the blood of many Americans, hundreds of Americans on his hand, I think is undisputed and and is clear,” she said. “The information that we received today allows me to make the statement that I believe that the action that was taken at the direction of the president was appropriate.”

The Senate war powers resolution is sponsored by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. It requires 51 votes to pass, so four Republican senators would have to join the Democrats. In addition to Lee, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., supports the resolution.

Murkowski said the measure is vague in places, and she worries it would send a message to the military, and to other countries, that the response is driven by politics rather than policy.

“I want particularly the men and women that are serving us to know that we are behind them 100% in terms of what they do, day in and day out, to protect us as a nation,” she said. “And so making sure that we are clear and cautious at the same time is important and a priority to me.”