Senate Readies War Powers Bill to Limit Trump’s Iran Options
(Bloomberg) -- The Senate is moving closer to a rebuke of Donald Trump over Iran, as Democratic Senator Tim Kaine said he has enough Republican votes to pass a resolution limiting the president’s ability to carry out a military attack against that country without congressional authorization.
The move reflects bipartisan dissatisfaction over the administration’s varying justifications for the drone strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, including a briefing last week that one GOP senator called insulting.
Kaine said Tuesday he has 51 “declared votes“ for a revised version of his war powers resolution. He said GOP senators Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Susan Collins and Todd Young will support his measure.
Two of these Republicans -- Lee and Paul -- said last week they would support Kaine’s effort after they blasted Trump administration officials including Secretary of State Michael Pompeo over the classified briefing. Lee said it was the worst briefing he’d ever received on military matters.
Kaine told reporters Tuesday that he was approached by Republicans after that meeting with Trump administration officials turned tense.
“In conversations with Republican colleagues, especially after the briefing last week, they were discouraged that the attitude that was being communicated to us was that Congress is an annoyance” and they only wanted to provide “morsels of information,” Kaine said.
Lower-level officials from the departments of State and Defense will provide another classified briefing Wednesday to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Briefers include Brian Hook, the special representative for Iran, and David Schenker, the assistant secretary of state for the Middle East.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has led some of the only efforts from Republican lawmakers to push back on Trump’s policy priorities in the last three years. The panel has introduced resolutions to prevent the Trump administration from selling arms to Saudi Arabia and continuing to back the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.
Trump vetoed those measures, and Congress failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed to override his veto. If the Kaine resolution passes the Senate, it will have to be adopted by the House before going to the president. Trump would probably veto it.
The House already adopted a similar resolution that only got three Republican votes in the Democratic-led chamber. That bill was introduced under a slightly different procedure that wouldn’t need Trump’s signature but would likely face a challenge in court.
Kaine’s resolution would order the president to cease any hostilities against Iran, its government or its military without express authorization from Congress. The measure includes changes requested by Republicans who were frustrated by last week’s briefing.
“After that they came to me and we have been able to make amendments that earned the support first of Senators Lee and Paul, but now the support also of Senators Young and Collins,” Kaine said.
The revised version of the bill did not attract the support of Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah, who said in a statement that the resolution sends the wrong message to Iran during a time of heightened tensions in the region.
“This resolution would undermine our deterrent capability and send the wrong message to Iran,” Romney said. “As it is currently drafted, this resolution would tie the president’s hands in responding to further potential Iranian aggression.”
Also on Tuesday, a group of eight Democratic senators wrote to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire asking for a briefing about claims by Trump and other administration officials that Soleimani was planning imminent attacks on U.S. embassies before he was killed earlier this month.
“There was no mention of any of this classified evidence during the all-senators briefing last Wednesday,” said the senators, led by Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut.
Young said earlier Tuesday he informed the Trump administration that he plans to support Kaine’s resolution after it was revised to remove some language he said was too political.
“The members of the administration with whom I spoke, who are important advisers to the president on issues of national security, were comfortable with my principled position,” Young said.
Collins said in a statement that the revised Kaine resolution doesn’t prevent the president from defending U.S. forces abroad while reasserting Congress’s “constitutional role.”
”Congress cannot be sidelined on these important decisions,” Collins said. “Only the legislative branch may declare war or commit our armed forces to a sustained military conflict with Iran.”
Kaine said the resolution is eligible for floor consideration next Tuesday though it could get a vote earlier if a deal is reached with leadership. Kaine said that under Senate rules the measure can get an expedited vote and only needs a simple majority to pass.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was also optimistic that it has enough support to pass.
“We believe we will get 51 votes,” Schumer told reporters Tuesday. “We believe this resolution is the right way to go.”
Kaine said he expects the Senate to be able to act on the resolution even though Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the chamber plans to begin Trump’s impeachment trial on Tuesday. Schumer said senators will “work out the timing.”
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