Congress set for clash over surveillance reforms
Senate Republican blocks unanimous consent on resolution calling targeting cultural sites a war crime
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) blocked passage of a resolution on Tuesday that classified attacks on cultural sites as "war crimes."
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) tried to get unanimous consent to pass the resolution, arguing that the Senate should go on record amid President Trump's threats to target Iranian cultural sites.
"The president would compound the mistake which he has made and turn it into something that could be catastrophic for that region, for our country, for the world," Markey said from the Senate floor.
He added that Trump's threat to target cultural sites is a "betrayal of American values. It is wrong. It is a needless escalation which ignores international law."
The page-long resolution states that "attacks on cultural sites are war crimes."
It also notes Defense Secretary Mark Esper's comments from Monday, when he told reporters that the United States would not target Iranian culture sites and would "follow the laws of armed conflict."
Under the Senate's rules, any one senator can request for a resolution to be passed by unanimous consent, but any one senator can object and block their request.
Inhofe said he appreciated "the spirit" of Markey's resolution but that it needed to be more specific.
"Since our votes carry the force of law, we need to be more specific in our resolutions, and it's simply not true that attacking cultural sites is always a war crime because there are many instances in which cultural sites have been used as staging grounds for hostilities," Inhofe said.
He added that he hoped Markey would amend his resolution "to acknowledge an exception for when cultural sites are used for staging military attacks or other improper purposes."
Trump appeared to back down on Tuesday from his threat to target Iranian cultural sites if Tehran retaliates over the strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Trump told reporters that he wants to obey the law when asked whether he would target Iranian cultural sites, which legal experts have said would likely amount to a violation of international law.
"If that's what the law is, I like to obey the law. But think of it. They kill our people. They blow up our people, and then we have to be very gentle with their cultural institutions. But I'm OK with it. It's OK with me," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.
Markey appeared skeptical that Trump wouldn't attack cultural sites, reading the president's previous tweets from the Senate floor.
"If he says that he's going to target the most valuable cultural sits inside of Iran, we should believe him. He does what he says he's going to do," Markey said.