Mea­sure to curb Trump’s Iran op­tions clears Se­nate

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY KAROUN DEMIR­JIAN

The Se­nate passed a res­o­lu­tion Thurs­day to limit Pres­i­dent Trump’s power to order mil­i­tary ac­tion against Iran with­out first seek­ing Congress’s per­mis­sion, a bipartisan re­buke of his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­sis­tance to in­volv­ing the leg­isla­tive branch in de­ci­sions that some fear could lead to all­out war.

Eight Repub­li­cans joined all Democrats in vot­ing 55 to 45 for the mea­sure, de­spite sharp warn­ings from Trump that chal­leng­ing his war pow­ers would “show weak­ness” and send “a very bad sig­nal” to Tehran. Trump will al­most cer­tainly veto the mea­sure once it passes the House, and nei­ther cham­ber of Congress has the votes to override that veto, law­mak­ers say.

Democrats be­hind the res­o­lu­tion say they are con­vinced the mea­sure may yet in­flu­ence Trump’s fu­ture de­ci­sions on the Mid­dle East.

“We’ve been talk­ing to our con­stituents, we’ve been lis­ten­ing to them, and we know what they think about an­other war in the Mid­dle East right now,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA.). “[ Trump’s] got an elec­tion that he’s fo­cused on

and he wants to win. . . . He could well veto it and then ad­just be­hav­ior.”

Half the Se­nate Repub­li­cans who broke ranks with Trump had done so be­fore on the same is­sue. In June, Sens. Su­san Collins (RMaine), Mike Lee (R-utah), Rand Paul (R-KY.) and Jerry Moran (RKan.) joined Democrats in back­ing an amend­ment to the an­nual de­fense bill re­quir­ing that Trump ap­proach Congress be­fore tak­ing mil­i­tary ac­tion against Iran, ex­cept in cases of clear self-de­fense or im­mi­nent at­tack.

In March, those four Repub­li­can sen­a­tors — along with Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-alaska) and Todd C. Young (R-ind.) — joined Democrats to back a war-pow­ers res­o­lu­tion or­der­ing the pres­i­dent to stop help­ing the Saudi-led mil­i­tary cam­paign in Ye­men.

The num­ber of GOP sen­a­tors will­ing to cross Trump over his Iran policy has risen in the wake of the strike last month that killed top Ira­nian mil­i­tary com­man­der Qasem Soleimani, amid the pos­si­bil­ity that it could have trig­gered a wider war with­out any con­gres­sional in­volve­ment.

Sens. La­mar Alexan­der (RTenn.) and Bill Cas­sidy (R-LA.), who have voted with Trump on pre­vi­ous Iran and war-pow­ers mea­sures, joined the group of Repub­li­cans break­ing with the pres­i­dent Thurs­day, stat­ing that there are lim­its to how much the pres­i­dent can do with­out first con­sult­ing Congress.

For some of those Repub­li­cans, the vote was not a crit­i­cism of the Soleimani strike but an as­ser­tion of the need for con­gres­sional au­tho­riza­tion be­fore the ad­min­is­tra­tion em­barks on a con­flict.

“If this res­o­lu­tion was in ef­fect at the be­gin­ning of the year, Pres­i­dent Trump would have still been able to carry out strikes against Iran and Gen­eral Soleimani (which I sup­ported),” Cas­sidy said in a state­ment ex­plain­ing his vote. “The founders gave Congress the power to de­clare war un­der Ar­ti­cle 1 of the Con­sti­tu­tion; we should ful­fill this re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

Sen. James E. Risch (R-idaho) ar­gued against the res­o­lu­tion, say­ing that Congress’s time would be bet­ter spent pass­ing a res­o­lu­tion cheer­ing Trump, as it did for

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama for or­der­ing the op­er­a­tion that led to the death of Osama bin Laden — who, Risch ar­gued, posed much less of an im­mi­nent threat to the

See video on the war-pow­ers vote at wapo.st/sen­ateiran.

coun­try than Soleimani did.

Pres­i­dents of both par­ties — in­clud­ing Ge­orge W. Bush, Obama and Trump — have said they have the right to order mil­i­tary ac­tion as a mat­ter of self-de­fense when they see threats they de­fine as “im­mi­nent.” But some law­mak­ers say the ex­ec­u­tive branch has ex­panded its war pow­ers to the detri­ment of Congress, par­tic­u­larly when it in­vokes con­gres­sional au­tho­riza­tions passed in 2001 and 2002 to sup­port ac­tion in con­flicts never en­vi­sioned at that time.

Na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Robert C. O’brien said the strike on Soleimani was jus­ti­fied by Congress’s 2002 au­tho­riza­tion of the war on Iraq.

Ef­forts in Congress to re­peal the old au­tho­riza­tions or write new ones have failed, amid the di­vide be­tween law­mak­ers who want to bring troops home and those who want to pro­vide fresh au­tho­riza­tion for cur­rent cam­paigns.

The de­bate over Iran has also been fu­eled by many law­mak­ers’ frus­tra­tion at what they see as a lack of can­dor from ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials about what prompted the strike on Soleimani. Of­fi­cials have of­fered shift­ing ex­pla­na­tions of the ba­sis for the strike, in­clud­ing that Soleimani posed an im­mi­nent threat to U.S. per­son­nel in the Mid­dle East and that it was re­tal­i­a­tion for an at­tack on a U.S. base in Iraq that killed a U.S. con­trac­tor.

Lee, one of the Repub­li­can sen­a­tors who openly crit­i­cized the ad­min­is­tra­tion for its mixed and limited mes­sages, in­sisted this week that vot­ing to re­assert Congress’s war pow­ers “should not be con­tro­ver­sial” and that re­claim

ing such ground from the ex­ec­u­tive branch “doesn’t show weak­ness, that shows strength.”

It is not clear that the bipartisan na­ture of the vote in the House will be as strong as it was in the Se­nate. The House must take up Kaine’s res­o­lu­tion be­fore it can be sent to Trump’s desk — some­thing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- Calif.) promised Thurs­day that she would do “in the com­ing weeks.”

Last month, the House passed a sim­i­lar but non­bind­ing Iran war-pow­ers res­o­lu­tion by a vote of 224 to 194. Only three Repub­li­cans joined most of the Democrats to sup­port that mea­sure — far fewer than joined Democrats in 2019 to back mea­sures pre­vent­ing Trump from us­ing fed­eral funds to con­duct op­er­a­tions against Iran and in­vok­ing Congress’s war pow­ers to pull back sup­port for the Saudi-led cam­paign in Ye­men.

One of those Repub­li­cans, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-fla.), is a close ally of Trump’s and a leading voice in his party for re­assert­ing Congress’s war pow­ers and end­ing end­less wars. In the wake of the House’s vote last month, he told Politico that he sus­pected he had been kept off the pres­i­dent’s team of de­fend­ers dur­ing his im­peach­ment trial as re­tal­i­a­tion for his vote to con­strain Trump’s ac­tions against Iran.

The vote in the Se­nate came barely a week af­ter Trump was ac­quit­ted of the im­peach­ment charges against him. The Se­nate’s sin­gu­lar fo­cus on that trial for sev­eral weeks had kept the cham­ber from con­sid­er­ing the war­pow­ers res­o­lu­tion that passed Thurs­day.

SARAH SILBIGER/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IM­AGES

From left, Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA.), Richard J. Durbin (D-ill.) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thurs­day.

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