Congress to clash over Trump's war powers

Democrats will attempt to curb President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump fires intelligence community inspector general who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Trump organization has laid off over 1000 employees due to pandemic: report Trump invokes Defense Production Act to prevent export of surgical masks, gloves MORE’s war powers after a U.S. drone strike killed a senior Iranian military leader in what lawmakers are calling a major escalation that could lead to war. 

Senate Democrats are mobilizing behind a resolution that would force Trump to withdraw American troops from hostilities against Iran unless Congress declares war or passes a resolution authorizing military force.

“I will do everything I can to assert our authority. We do not need this president either bumbling or impulsively getting us into a major war,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots Schumer doubles down in call for Trump to name coronavirus supply czar Trump lashes out at Schumer over call for supply czar MORE (D-N.Y.) said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George StephanopoulosGeorge Robert StephanopoulosActress Ali Wentworth, wife of ABC's George Stephanopoulos, tests positive for coronavirus: 'Pure misery' Sanders focuses on Biden's record, predicts Michigan victory as primary becomes two-man race Carson declines to 'preview' plan for virus-stricken ship's docking: 'We shouldn't have 16 people saying what the plan is' MORE.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“We need Congress to be a check on this president,” he said.

The drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and several Iran-backed militia leaders drew a swift and angry rebuke from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who vowed “forceful revenge.”

Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Admiral James Stavridis warned Sunday that Iran could target U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf as well as senior U.S. military and diplomatic officials in Europe, whom he described as “soft targets.”

Kataib Hezbollah, the militant group that attacked a U.S. base in Kirkuk a week ago, killing a contractor, have said they will attack U.S. forces in the region in the coming days.

The Pentagon announced Friday that it would send an additional 3,000 troops to the Middle East.

Trump warned Saturday that if Iran strikes any Americans or Americans assets, U.S. forces would retaliate immediately.

ADVERTISEMENT

“We have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago),” he tweeted.

Democrats in both chambers warn that the United States and Iran may be on a path to a larger military clash, something Republicans worried about last year in the aftermath of other incidents like Iran’s downing of a U.S. surveillance drone in June.

House Democrats can essentially force a vote in the Senate because the war-powers resolution is privileged, but they’re unlikely to get the two-thirds majority needed in both chambers to overcome an expected presidential veto if the measure makes it to Trump’s desk. 

Republicans, meanwhile, have rallied around the president for ordering the drone strike in Baghdad that killed Soleimani. Any resolution to curb Trump’s power to attack Iran is likely to receive less GOP support than a resolution Congress passed last year to force the administration to end U.S. military support for the civil war in Yemen. 

Trump vetoed that measure, and a Senate vote to override it fell well short of 67 votes, mustering only 53. 

Democrats, however, argue that this time around Trump has acted rashly in a way that will destabilize the Middle East. They now hope to drive a wedge between the president and Republican lawmakers leery of the president’s foreign policy decisions.

Even if Trump is certain to veto a war-powers resolution, Democrats would view a bipartisan vote to limit the president’s military authority as an important victory in an election year. 

“The Senate must not let this president march into another war in the Middle East without authorization from Congress,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus Senator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy Democratic lawmakers demand government stop deporting unaccompanied children MORE (Ill.), who along with Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineBiden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much Students with disabilities could lose with COVID-19 stimulus package Coronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner MORE (D-Va.) has co-sponsored the resolution directing Trump to pull U.S. troops back from Iran-related hostilities. 

“The Constitution is clear — only the Congress can declare war,” Durbin said.

Democratic senators are discussing when to force a vote on the resolution and what other tools are at their disposal. 

“People are exploring the different options right now,” said Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOvernight Defense: Lawmakers call for probe into aircraft carrier captain's firing | Sailors cheer ousted commander | Hospital ship to ease screening process for patients Lawmakers call for investigation into aircraft carrier captain's firing Lawmakers call for unemployment benefits for evacuated Peace Corps volunteers MORE (D-Md.), who warned in a Senate floor speech that Trump’s action would reduce U.S. influence in Iraq, a majority Shia country that borders Iran, which is also majority Shia. 

Aside from debating and voting on a war powers resolution, Democrats will press the administration on what legal rationale it used to justify the strike and what strategy it has in place to guard against Iranian reprisals.

ADVERTISEMENT

Trump said Friday that he ordered the mission against Soleimani “to stop a war.”

Seven Senate Republicans voted with Democrats in March to require Trump to withdraw troops in or affecting Yemen within 30 days: Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus GOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post Campaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus MORE (Maine), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesHow much damage? The true cost of the Senate's coronavirus relief bill McConnell says T bill is 'emergency relief' and not a 'stimulus' The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden moves to unify party before general election MORE (Mont.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeJustice IG pours fuel on looming fight over FISA court Senator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy Trump on Romney's negative coronavirus test: 'I am so happy I can barely speak' MORE (Utah), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves GOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus Murkowski pushes Mnuchin for oil company loans MORE (Alaska), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranRand Paul's coronavirus diagnosis sends shockwaves through Senate Sinema criticizes Paul for alleged behavior ahead of coronavirus test results: 'Absolutely irresponsible' Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter dismantle Russian interference campaign targeting African Americans | YouTube to allow ads on coronavirus videos | Trump signs law banning federal funds for Huawei equipment MORE (Kan.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGeorgia governor says he didn't know asymptomatic people could spread coronavirus McConnell: Impeachment distracted government from coronavirus threat Warren knocks McConnell for forcing in-person Senate vote amid coronavirus pandemic MORE (Ky.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungRand Paul's coronavirus diagnosis sends shockwaves through Senate GOP lukewarm on talk of airline bailout Trump, GOP scramble to keep economy from derailing MORE (Ind.).

So far no GOP senator has criticized Trump’s action against Iran, although Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyTrump selects White House lawyer for coronavirus inspector general Overnight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill On The Money: Economy sheds 701K jobs in March | Why unemployment checks could take weeks | Confusion surrounds 9B in small-business loans MORE (R-Utah), a frequent critic of the president, especially in foreign policy-related areas, said he wants the administration to offer a more detailed explanation of its strategy. 

“It’s imperative that the US & our allies articulate & pursue a coherent strategy for protecting our security interests in the region. I will be pressing the Administration for additional details in the days ahead,” Romney tweeted.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill On The Money: Economy sheds 701K jobs in March | Why unemployment checks could take weeks | Confusion surrounds 9B in small-business loans 13 things to know for today about coronavirus MORE (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor Friday that he is working to set up a classified briefing on the strike this next week with all senators. 

At the same time, McConnell, who is up for reelection and counting on support from Trump to mobilize the GOP base, applauded Trump’s decision.

ADVERTISEMENT

“The architect and chief engineer for the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism has been removed from the battlefield at the hand of the United States military,” he said. 

McConnell urged colleagues to review the facts closely before criticizing the president.

“Although I anticipate and welcome a debate about America’s interests and foreign policy in the Middle East, I recommend that all senators wait to review the facts and hear from the administration before passing much public judgment on this operation and its potential consequences,” he said. 

Other Republicans, such as Sens. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseAmerica's governors should fix unemployment insurance Mnuchin emerges as key asset in Trump's war against coronavirus House Republican urges Pompeo to take steps to limit misinformation from China on coronavirus MORE (Neb.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves Florida sheriff asks for new leads in disappearance of Carole Baskin's former husband after Netflix's 'Tiger King' drops MORE (Texas) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham asks colleagues to support call for China to close wet markets Justice IG pours fuel on looming fight over FISA court Trump says he's considering restricting travel to coronavirus 'hot spots' MORE (S.C.) also hailed Trump’s decision. 

Trump, following in the footsteps of his two predecessors, has used a 2001 authorization of military force against al Qaeda and its allies to justify military actions around the Middle East and Africa.

Democrats argue that authority cannot possibly be used to justify military action against Iran, which is fighting al Qaeda’s successor, ISIS.

ADVERTISEMENT

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned on the Senate floor Friday that Trump cannot expand military attacks against Iran without explicit approval from Congress and demanded to know what legal justification was used for the strike and what the administration is doing to guard against retaliatory strikes.

“The president does not have the authority for a war with Iran. If he plans a large increase in troops and potential hostility over a longer time, the administration will require congressional approval and the approval of the American people,” Schumer said.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump says he opposes mail-in voting for November On The Money: Economy sheds 701K jobs in March | Why unemployment checks could take weeks | Confusion surrounds 9B in small-business loans The bipartisan neutering of the Congressional Budget Office MORE (D-Calif.) has called on the administration to brief the entire Congress on what she called a “serious situation.”

She warned that Trump’s strike risks a “dangerous escalation of violence.”

One option could be to force a debate and vote on the war powers resolution before the start of Trump’s impeachment trial, which is on hold while McConnell and Schumer are at an impasse on the rules of the proceedings. 

Before the holiday break, some Republicans were talking about using early January to approve the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement trade deal in the Senate.

The more likely scenario now, however, is that senators will have to wait until partisan tensions over impeachment subside a bit and lawmakers have more information about the national security threat posed by Iran.