Senators wish Trump had stuck to honoring fallen Navy SEAL
Senators from both parties said President Trump should not have commented on the success of the January raid on Yemen during his address to Congress -- instead simply honoring the Navy SEAL who died during the mission, Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator William "Ryan" Owens.
During Trump’s Tuesday address to a joint session of Congress, the president said that Defense Secretary James Mattis “reconfirmed” that the operation “generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.”
Those remarks came shortly after reports surfaced that the raid did not yield significant intelligence. A senior U.S. official later told ABC News that the raid did in fact provide insights into the workings of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
"The one thing I would caution this president is be careful of overselling when it comes to war," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, told reporters Wednesday. "Nobody's going to criticize an effort to go after the enemy. Sometimes you get dry holes, sometimes the raids don't work out like you would like. But that's not the issue. The people who do this are heroes. Don't oversell results.”
The question of whether or not the Yemen raid was a “success” was something on which the White House itself had changed its position publicly. Press secretary Sean Spicer said during the daily briefing on Feb. 2, “It's hard to ever call something a complete success, when you have the loss of life or people injured.”
But Spicer and Trump went after Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, after he told reporters on Feb. 9 that he would not describe the mission as a success given that a service member died.
Trump tweeted, in part, that McCain “should not be talking about the success or failure of a mission to the media. Only emboldens the enemy! He’s been losing so long he doesn’t know how to win anymore.”
Spicer said during that day’s briefing that the mission was “absolutely a success,” appearing to amend his previous comment.
On Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio echoed Graham in recommending that the administration focus, at least publicly, on the heroism of the service member lost during the raid.
“Look, the objective of the mission was not achieved. That doesn't make the sacrifices any less heroic and I imagine there would be some valuable information that was gathered,” he said.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, who accompanied Trump to the transfer of Owens’ remains at Dover Air Force Base, said Trump should not have mentioned the raid.
"I think it's always appropriate when we recognize and thank the family of an American who is killed in combat. I would have preferred the president stick to that," Coons said.
While Owens’ widow Carryn attended the speech and was recognized with an extended standing ovation, his father Bill refused to see Trump at the dignified transfer and has called for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death, according to the Miami Herald, which interviewed him this past weekend.
"I think it is a cause of some pain for the family to sort of re-litigate the details of this particular raid, and I think what's important here is to thank and recognize Ryan Owen's widow, children and parents for the enormous sacrifice they've made for our country," Coons said.
U.S. Central Command, which oversees missions in the Middle East, confirmed that an investigation into Owens' death was underway as is routine after the passing of any deployed U.S. service member, but that there is no investigation into the raid itself.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, said there are still “a lot of questions” to be answered about the raid, which underscored the sensitivity of the entire episode.
"It kind of compounded the tragedy and the sentiment toward the widow who was there last night to know that there's internal family division. And some members of the family, the father, is really demanding that questions be answered," Kaine said.
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