WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday narrowly voted to begin debate on a resolution that would block President Donald Trump from carrying out attacks on Iran.
All Democrats present plus eight Republicans voted 51-45 in favor of beginning debate on the resolution from Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, which would require the immediate cessation of “hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran or any part of its government or military, unless explicitly authorized” by Congress.
Kaine’s resolution is privileged under the 1973 War Powers Act, which means the Virginia Democrat is able to force a debate and vote on it with only a majority of votes, rather than the more common 60-vote threshold for legislative measures.
“This resolution is about Congress reclaiming its rightful role in decisions about war,” Kaine said Wednesday in floor remarks. “While the president does and must always have the ability to defend the United States from imminent attack, the executive power to initiate war stops there. An offensive war requires a congressional debate and vote. This should not be a controversial proposition. It’s clearly stated in the Constitution.”
The eight Republicans voting in support of proceeding to debate on the measure were Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Todd Young of Indiana, Mike Lee of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.
The House has already voted on a similar resolution, passing it with bipartisan votes in the wake of the administration’s targeted killing last month in Iraq with a U.S. drone of Tehran’s top military commander, Qassem Soleimani.
While Kaine’s resolution in theory should be able to easily pass the House and then go to the president’s desk, Trump is expected to veto it. Democrats lack the two-thirds votes necessary in both the House and Senate to overturn such a veto.
“It is very important for our Country’s SECURITY that the United States Senate not vote for the Iran War Powers Resolution,” Trump said in a tweet sent shortly before the vote. “We are doing very well with Iran and this is not the time to show weakness. Americans overwhelmingly support our attack on terrorist Soleimani. If my hands were tied, Iran would have a field day. Sends a very bad signal. The Democrats are only doing this as an attempt to embarrass the Republican Party. Don’t let it happen!”
A narrow majority of Americans, or 53 percent, in a late January poll conducted by The Washington Post-ABC News approved of Soleimani’s killing. Nearly 48 percent of those polled said the preemptive strike on Soleimani ratcheted up the risks of terrorist attacks on Americans and 46 percent believe the attack increased the likelihood of war with Iran.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s staunchest supporters, lambasted the effort to use the War Powers Act to constrain the president. “I’ve had a long-standing opposition to the War Powers Act. I think it’s an unconstitutional intrusion on the ability of any commander in chief to defend the nation, the South Carolina Republican said on the floor. “I’ve always believed the best thing Congress can do in dealing with military operations in longstanding conflicts that it disagrees with is to cut off funding.”
At a news conference after the vote to proceed to debate, senators from both parties urged support for the measure.
“This is not about wanting a weak presidency or wanting a weak commander in chief. This is really about the proper allocation of power between the three branches of government,” Lee said. “This is one that is neither conservative or liberal, it is neither Democratic or Republican ... this is neither hawkish or dovish.”
Added Collins: “Over the past decade, regrettably Congress has too often abdicated its constitutional responsibility on authorizing the sustained use of military force. ... Although the president as commander in chief has the power to lead and defend our armed force and respond to imminent attacks, no president has the authority to commit our military to a sustained conflict.”