Democratic lawmakers called on administration officials to reopen diplomatic channels with Iran, tune down their rhetoric and reconsider their strategy – or at least explain it. Above all, they stressed that the White House can not launch a war without consulting Congress first.
"They have no business declaring a war without the consent of the Congress," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and California Democrat, told reporters.
Republicans and administration officials have defended the recent steps, including the State Department's order for some embassy personnel in Baghdad to leave the country as prudent precautionary measures, even as skepticism about some administration claims mounts and concerns about a conflict grow.
The administration is moving to quell lawmakers' frustration by holding a briefing on Thursday for Senate and House leaders from both parties as well as top Republican and Democrat members of each chamber's intelligence committee.
But Democrats are calling for a broader briefing after reports that National Security Adviser John Bolton ordered an update to a military plan to send 1
Their tensions have been deepened by a discrepancy between the administration's repeated insistence that Iran is posing an increased threat to US staff in Syria and Iraq and the remarks of a British Major General who serves as deputy commander of the anti-ISIS coalition. Major General Chris Ghika flatly said the threat level from Iran has not changed. The British Defense Ministry backed his assessment Wednesday.
There is an alarming lack of clarity here, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Senate floor Wednesday. "There is a lack of strategy and there is a lack of consultation."
Schumer said that acting acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford, may brief senators next week. An adventure like this, 120,000 troops or a large number of troops, should have been approved by the Congress. It should certainly be discussed with the Congress, "Schumer said. "The President has to come up with a strategy and make it clear to the Congress." President Trump, what is your strategy, "where are you headed and why do not you talk to the Congress about it?"
Republican Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, emerging from a classified briefing with the CIA director and NSA director on global threats, told CNN that "there is a lot more to be known before decisions are made" about possible military responses to Iran .
Moran, a member of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee that held the briefing in the Capitol, said he had not reached a conclusion on the different US and British views on the Iranian threat. "But in my view, it is worthwhile exploring," Moran said.
Lawmakers debated the point as other allies are expressing discomfort, with UN Secretary General António Guterres and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini urging "restraint."
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, speaking at a high-level meeting that included Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, urged the Iranian people to be steadfast amid US "psychological pressure" and called on the US to "repent" and "get back on the right track, "according to the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting outlet.
Administration officials have said they do not want a war with Iran, but have not ruled out the possibility and have said repeatedly in recent days that they will respond to any Iranian provocation with a swift and decisive response.
Asked on April 15 If the Trump administration was seeking a military confrontation with Iran, within the contours of the Authorization to Use Military Force legislation, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo left the door slightly upholstered
"The United States and President Trump will act legally. He will act within his authorities," Pompeo said. "AUMF gives a set of broad powers, but they are – we understand them."
Speaking at the Capitol building Wednesday, Pelosi said that "the very idea that they would say they would the use of the military force, which is 18 years old and now, whatever its age, it is not appropriate in terms of its scope, its geography, its timing for any action they might take, wherever they may be taking them . "
But Sen. John Thune of South Dakota was among Republicans who said the administration was taking careful precautions. "Our war planners are doing their diligence and ensuring if needed, be prepared to respond to anything they do," Thune said.
Asked whether the Congress should be consulted, Thune said of the administration that "they sometimes have to respond to a set of circumstances and they do not always have all the time in the world to do all the consultations, but clearly there are "
Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, said the decision to withdraw some embassy staff was a necessary precaution and has reduced the discrepancy between US and British threat assessments.
"The intelligence that we have seen in the Senate Intelligence Committee has shown a heightened threat throughout the region" from Iran and its proxy forces, Cotton told CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "The British general and I may have a different interpretation of that threat or how severe that threat is."
There are also US experts expressing concern about the quality of recent intelligence on Iran.
Col. Cedric Leighton (Ret.), A former high ranking official at the National Security Agency as well as with Air Force Intelligence, said there is no indication yet that Iran's threats poses right now are unique and different from the basic noise we have
'What Makes Me Skeptical'
"What Makes Me It is a skeptical fact that a lot of intelligence that has been revealed so far seems to be very normal, it seems to be the kind of behavior that Iran has engaged in before, and we have not really reacted to that before, "Leighton, and CNN military analyst, said. "I am very skeptical of the intelligence that we have right now."
Moran of Kansas, when asked if he was concerned with faulty intelligence could lead the US to war, said, "We know that we need to have the most accurate "
In an apparent reference to the Iraq War, which was launched in part on the basis of flawed intelligence, Moran said that "we know that from history, we know that as a practical matter people's lives are at stake."
New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the lack of information was dangerous.
"We do not need any other Iraq weapons of mass destruction when we are engaged in a conflict without understanding, testing the veracity of intelligence that could lead us to a number of actions, number one," he said. "Number two, you can not make foreign policy and national security decisions in the blind and that's what we're going to do with the lack of information."
CNN's Allison Malloy, Jamie Crawford, Barbara Starr and Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report