Lawmakers back from their holiday break will wade into the twin controversies rocking the United States abroad and at home on Tuesday,with Trump continuing to whip up the political storm.
Global aftershocks from the targetedkilling of Iranian General Qasem Suleimaniand signs of a chaotic national security process after a farcical episode Monday over the future of US troops in Iraq are undermining White House claims of a strategic win over Iran.
The administration is making rigorous frantic attempts to justify the killing of one of Tehran’s top leaders as critics demand proof that Soleimani plotted “imminent “attacks against Americans. Democrats, meanwhile, are launching an attempt to rein in Trump’s authority to attack Iran in a war powers showdown.
At the same time, the fierce dispute over impeachment is intensifying. In a surprise twist ahead of Trump’s Senate trial, his former national security adviserJohn Bolton offered to testify if subpoenaed, reigniting the dispute over witnesses and piling pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But Trump’s Senate loyalists refused to budge on their resistance to expanding on the House impeachment inquiry, leading to Democratic warnings of a “cover up.”
The parallel controversies have conjured a combustible mood on an already bitterly divided Capitol Hill. They are symptomatic of a President whose disruptive leadership style is leading the nation into ever deeper controversies. Both episodes – his hardline policy against Iran and his alleged coaxing of Ukraine for political favors that led to impeachment – highlight Trump’s propensity to resist curbs on his power. The estrangement between Democrats and the White House and congressional Republicans is now clearly undermining national unity at a time of fraught international tension.
It also highlights how the credibility of the administration – – a priceless commodity at a time of national emergency – has been eroded by the President’s documented record of repeated lying.
“I think it’s important that all of us here, carry out our constitutional duty to proceed with the impeachment trial while also paying close attention to developments in the Middle East and making sure the administration briefs us fully, “Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons said.
Trump: ‘We’re safer’
The President insisted on Monday that the drone strike at the Baghdad airport that killed Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, should have been carried out years ago by previous administrations.
“We’re a lot safer because of it, “Trump told conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh. As Americans brace for a reprisal strikes from its enemy of years, the President seemed unperturbed.
“We’ll see what the response is, if any,” he said.
The White House says that the killing Soleimani may have saved hundreds of US lives and point to his role masterminding Iran’s network of radical proxy groups and developing weaponry that helped militias kill hundreds of US troops in the Iraq war.
But Democrats complained that the administration has provided only classified material about the attack, which critics fear could spark a war with Iran . They want Trump to give a full public accounting.
“I’ve become increasingly alarmed about the strike,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said. “A strike that was carried out with insufficient transparency, without consultation of Congress and without a clear plan for what comes next.”
Even one of Trump’s sometime golf partners – Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who is often troubled by US military action abroad – raised concerns about what happens next.
“The death of Soleimani, I think, is the death of diplomacy, “Paul said. “I see only military escalation from here. I see no way out.”
But Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there was no reason to doubt Soleimani’s intent.
“I’ve seen words like, ‘Oh, the intelligence is razor thin, ” Miller told reporters. “I will stand by the intelligence I saw, that it was compelling, it was imminent, and it was very, very clear in scale, scope.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced a vote this week on a War Powers Resolution designed to limit Trump’s power to conduct military operations against Iran for more than 51 days.
As massive crowds gathered in Iran at Soleimani’s funeral rites, the Supreme Leader’s military adviser told CNN that Iran would hit back at US military sites.
Thousands of US troops are vulnerable in the Middle East. In a sign of readiness, the US plans to deploy six B – bombers for Iran operations to the British territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
But a mix- up over the status of US troops in Iraq, after the country’s Parliament voted to expel them, sparked questions about the administration’s strategic coherence.
In a letter, the Defense Department told the Iraqi Defense Ministry that it was repositioning some troops and said, “We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure.”
But Milley called the letter a “mistake” and said was “poorly worded” because it implied a withdrawal that was not happening.
In another sign of disarray, Defense Secretary Mark Esper contradicted Trump’s two assertionsthat the US could bomb cultural sites in Iran.
“We will follow the laws of armed conflict,” Esper told CNN, when asked abo ut attacks that could amount to war crimes if they were conducted.
Heat rises over impeachment
It is a sign of the turmoil that habitually rages in Washington during the Trump administration that lawmakers are wrapped up in an impeachment controversy even as war drums beat.
Bolton’s announcement that he Was now ready to appear at a Senate trial was greeted as a triumph by Democrats after Pelosi delayed sending over voted-on articles of impeachment against Trump to challenge the GOP reluctance to call witnesses.
“I have connected that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify.” Bolton said in a statement.
The development was a political boost for Democrats because it allowed them to argue that a GOP refusal to allow witness testimony would be tantamount to suppressing the truth .
“If any Senate Republican opposes issuing subpoenas to the four witnesses and documents we’ve requested they would make it absolutely clear they are participating in a cover up in one of the most sacred duties we have in this Congress, in this Senate, and that is to keep a president in check, “Schumer said.
Republican sources however suggested that the Bolton breakthrough would not cause McConnell to budge from his position that the trial must start before a decision is made on witnesses.
Trump allies in the Senate are still staunchly opposed to continuing to investigate his pressure on Ukraine for dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, arguing it is not their chamber’s job to improve the House’s case.
) “If the House wants to start a new impeachment inquiry or pull it back and add additional elements to it, that’s their choice to make,” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said.
His colleague, Sen. John Kennedy from Louisiana, warned that “most rational people would want to avoid getting pulled into the middle of this sequel to Pulp Fiction.”
Democrats are seeking to press moderate Republican senators in the hope they will vote to call witnesses.
Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said “of course” he’d like to hear what Bolton had to say.
The former national security adviser called the President’s personal lawyer and Ukraine fixer Rudy Giuliani a “hand grenade” that was going to blow everyone up, according to sworn testimony from another witness.