Pa’s Toomey, Casey sharply split on Trump’s Iran strategy

U.S. Sens. Bob Casey (D) and Pat Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania (Capital-Star file)

One of them wants the White House to get Congress’ permission before starting America’s next war. The other believes that when American lives are at stake it would be “palpably negligible” to wait for authorization before acting.

In back-to-back conference calls on Wednesday, Pennsylvania’s two United States senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey, provided ample evidence of the growing partisan divide on Capitol Hill over escalating tensions with Iran.

Toomey, the state’s junior senator, commended President Donald Trump for the “restraint that he demonstrated in the face of escalating attacks.”

“I think the president was right to take out [Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem] Sulemani when the opportunity presented itself,” Toomey said. “It would have been irresponsible not to respond to that very, very grave threat.”

Toomey said that he is hopeful that these deterrents will deescalate the conflict between the U.S. and Iran. 

Casey, of Scranton, announced Wednesday that he’d signed onto Kaine’s war powers resolution, that would require the executive branch to seek congressional authorization before the United States could go to war with Iran

Casey agreed with that tack, pointing out that it’s been more than a decade since Congress voted on a pair of “Authorizations of Military Force” as they’re known. One came in 2001, in the wake of the terror attacks in New York City and Washington D.C. The next came in 2002 to authorize American military action in Iraq.

How Pa. lawmakers responded to Trump’s airstrike that killed a top Iranian military leader

“In my judgment, for the president to engage in a war with Iran, [it] would require a new [authorization],” Casey said, adding that Kaine’s resolution does not bar the White House from protecting the nation from an imminent threat.

Toomey also discussed Kaine’s legislation, and while he acknowledged that he hadn’t read it in its entirety, “the most important elements of it are very, very troubling to me.”

Citing Iran’s recent “escalating pattern” of behavior, Toomey countered Casey’s remarks adding, “the president does not need Congress to protect Americans.”

Toomey did, however, agree that, hypothetically, if war were being considered, the President would need to seek Congressional authority. 

However, “no one is talking about or suggesting war with Iran,” Toomey said.

Casey added that the ceding of war-making authority to the executive branch was a “bipartisan failure stretching back many years,” and across administrations. 

Senators met behind closed doors for 90 minutes Wednesday with such senior Trump administration officials as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper to discuss the air strike last week that killed a senior Iranian military official.

Because it was classified, Casey said he could not discuss the specifics of the briefing session, which was also attended by CIA Director Gina Haspel and Director of National Intelligence Joseph McGuire.

Casey did say, however, that lawmakers repeatedly pressed the officials on the basis and evidence for the “imminent threat” that the administration used to justify the drone attack that claimed the life of Major General Qasem Suleimani.

“What I didn’t hear was an answer to that basic question,” he said. Casey said he asked a question of the administration officials. Without disclosing specifics, he said he found the answer “helpful, but there was more follow-up to do.”

Toomey said the briefing he and Casey attended gave “a very clear strategy going forward with Iran” using “deterrents,” such as the Trump administration’s airstrike and a “campaign of maximum economic pressure,” referring to the sanctioned Trump announced in an earlier press conference.

Casey said last week that he believes “the world is safer with Suleimani gone.” He didn’t change that position Wednesday, but he did question the destabilizing impact of the attack, including Iran’s decision to withdraw from a 2015 nuclear agreement.

Casey said some senators in attendance Wednesday weren’t able to get their questions answered before the briefing session ended. The administration officials said they’d be willing to meet again, but did not offer a timetable for their return, he added. 

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. She is a graduate of Penn State University where she served as the campus newspaper’s photo editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared.
An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.