Democrats scramble to rein in Trump’s Iran war powers
Democrats are racing against the clock to shore up support for checking President Trump’s war powers as the fight shifts to the Senate.
Lawmakers looking to limit Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran face a tight time frame with little room for error after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced she will send the articles of impeachment to the Senate this week. Once the trial begins, all legislation is expected to be delayed for weeks.
But a resolution from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) can come to the Senate floor as soon as Tuesday morning, and he has been trying to win over the four GOP votes needed, in addition to every Democratic senator, to get to 51 votes.
“Republicans are giving us some good suggestions, some Democrats too, about things they would like to see,” Kaine said, adding that he was “in dialogue with a number of” GOP senators.
Kaine’s resolution, as originally introduced, would call for the U.S. to “remove United States Armed Forces from hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran” within 30 days unless it was responding to an “imminent” threat.
The Senate previously voted 50-40 on an amendment from Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) to an annual defense policy bill that prevented Trump from using funding for military action against Iran. The measure fell short of the 60 votes needed for adoption.
Four Republican senators voted for the proposal at the time: Susan Collins (Maine), Mike Lee (Utah), Jerry Moran (Kan.) and Rand Paul (Ky.). Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) missed the June vote but supported the measure, giving Kaine a pathway to 51 votes this week.
So far, Lee and Paul have said they will support Kaine’s war powers resolution after they left a closed-door briefing on the airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani visibly angry with the administration.
Lee told reporters that administration official — whom he declined to name — said during Wednesday’s briefing that Congress would “embolden” Iran if it debated Trump’s war powers.
“I walked into the briefing undecided, I walked out of that briefing decided specifically because of what happened in that briefing,” Lee said.
Paul added that he had wanted to wait until after he saw the intelligence behind the Soleimani strike but characterized the administration’s decision to use a 2002 authorization for the use of military force as “absurd” and an “insult.”
That leaves Democrats two short of the simple majority needed to pass the war powers resolution and pave the way for a veto showdown with Trump.
Kaine added that he is open to potential changes and is in discussions with several GOP senators, including members of the Foreign Relations Committee and Republicans who voted for a separate resolution requiring the president to withdraw any troops in or “affecting” Yemen within 30 days unless they are fighting al Qaeda. Trump vetoed that resolution last year.
Collins said she met with Kaine for half an hour but has not made a final decision.
“The language is not yet final, and we discussed some of the issues. Until Sen. Kaine decides on his final language, I cannot determine whether or not I will support it,” she said.
Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee who voted for the Yemen resolution, confirmed he is also in discussions with Kaine.
“I do have some reservations that I shared with him. Candidly, I’ve been trying to think through the implications of its introduction … and whether, you know, it’s still every bit as relevant as it would have been prior to the strikes” on Iraqi bases by Iran, Young added.
Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Moran have not revealed how they will vote on Kaine’s measure.
Murkowski told Alaska radio station KTOO that she has not made a final decision, adding that her “inclination right now is, I’m hesitant to sign on to it for a host of different reasons.”
Romney, meanwhile, noted to reporters that he voted against Kaine’s Iran proposal in June but “he has made a number of changes since then, and I’ve not seen the latest version, so I’ll be taking a look.”
A Democratic aide said that while Kaine’s bill can be brought to the floor as soon as Tuesday, Democrats could delay forcing a vote if they’re still pursuing negotiations with undecided Republicans.
Kaine has made changes to the bill in order to try to attract more support, including removing two paragraphs in the “findings” section that directly mention Trump over concerns from Republicans and some Democrats that it was too political.
Kaine stopped short of saying whether the changes would be enough to win him the crucial final votes for his resolution.
“Until they say they’re on board, they’re not,” he said when asked if the changes had won over additional Republicans. “The changes that I have made, I think they’re viewed favorably by a number of other Republicans. But nobody yet said, ‘OK, that’s sufficient. I’m on.’”
“But I’m making changes and responding to their good faith questions and concerns to try to win their support,” Kaine added.
It’s unclear when the House impeachment articles will be sent to the Senate, but Pelosi indicated Friday that she would address the matter with her caucus on Tuesday, meaning a trial could start as soon as Wednesday.
Democrats want a deal to be able to vote on war powers on the sidelines of impeachment if they aren’t able to finish the debate before the start of the trial, though members of Senate GOP leadership have been skeptical they’ll be able to get an agreement, even though Republicans also want to pass Trump’s trade deal with Canada and Mexico.
Absent a vote next week, Kaine’s resolution will be privileged for a floor vote until early March, 60 days after its introduction.
The House passed a similar resolution last week, largely along party lines, but it is a concurrent resolution, meaning it doesn’t go to Trump’s desk and isn’t legally binding.
A Senate Foreign Relations Committee aide said the House resolution will also face a 10-day delay once it is sent to the Senate before it can be brought up on the floor, making it unlikely the House measure would be brought up before the start of an impeachment trial.
Kaine said he was likely to work some of the House language into his resolution, specifically changing his wording about removing troops to the House’s use of “termination of the use of U.S. armed forces” in hostilities against Iran after some colleagues raised concerns that “removing” suggested a pullback of U.S. troops from the region.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who supported the House-passed resolution, predicted the House would take up Kaine’s resolution if it’s able to pass the Senate.
“I think a joint resolution actually would be perhaps even better,” he said. “It would have to be signed by the president, and it would require the president then to actually veto it like we did on Yemen.”
Rebecca Kheel contributed.
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