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Congress to clash over Trump's war powers

Democrats will attempt to curb President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump 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 SchumerChuck SchumerNew York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn Biden congratulates Pelosi on Speaker nomination Senate Democrats introduce bill to shore up PPE supply MORE (D-N.Y.) said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George StephanopoulosGeorge Robert StephanopoulosPressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win Top aide: Biden expected to visit Georgia in push to boost Ossoff, Warnock Chris Christie: Trump's legal team has been 'a national embarrassment' MORE.”

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“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.

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“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 DurbinDick DurbinDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Ending Trump's transactional arrogance on our public lands President is wild card as shutdown fears grow MORE (Ill.), who along with Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineRick Scott tests positive for coronavirus Grassley tests positive for coronavirus Top Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' 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 HollenDemocratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing Democratic senators offer bill to make payroll tax deferral optional for federal workers 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.

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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 CollinsTeam Trump offering 'fire hose' of conspiracy Kool-Aid for supporters Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Hogan 'embarrassed that more people' in the GOP 'aren't speaking up' against Trump MORE (Maine), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesRick Scott tests positive for coronavirus Biden eyes new leadership at troubled public lands agency OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight MORE (Mont.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeLoeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight MORE (Utah), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMurkowski calls on Trump to begin transition process, decries 'pressure campaign on state legislators' Hogan 'embarrassed that more people' in the GOP 'aren't speaking up' against Trump GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results MORE (Alaska), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranIt's time for Congress to act: Save jobs and stabilize the aerospace industry Lobbying world This World Suicide Prevention Day, let's recommit to protecting the lives of our veterans MORE (Kan.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLoeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus Overnight Defense: Formal negotiations inch forward on defense bill with Confederate base name language | Senators look to block B UAE arms sales | Trump administration imposes Iran sanctions over human rights abuses MORE (Ky.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungShelton's Fed nomination on knife's edge amid coronavirus-fueled absences Grassley quarantining after exposure to coronavirus Rick Scott to quarantine after contact with person who tested positive for COVID-19 MORE (Ind.).

So far no GOP senator has criticized Trump’s action against Iran, although Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Hogan 'embarrassed that more people' in the GOP 'aren't speaking up' against Trump Democrats gear up for last oversight showdown with Trump 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 McConnellTop aide: Biden expected to visit Georgia in push to boost Ossoff, Warnock Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Richmond says GOP 'reluctant to stand up and tell the emperor he wears no clothes' 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.

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“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 SasseBen SasseHogan 'embarrassed that more people' in the GOP 'aren't speaking up' against Trump Democrats gear up for last oversight showdown with Trump GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results MORE (Neb.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzMcSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol Capitol's COVID-19 spike could be bad Thanksgiving preview Republican senators urge Trump to label West Bank goods as 'Made in Israel' MORE (Texas) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMedia and Hollywood should stop their marching-to-Georgia talk Hackers love a bad transition The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump campaign files for Wis. recount l Secretaries of state fume at Trump allegations l Biden angered over transition delay 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.

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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 PelosiUS economy hurtles toward 'COVID cliff' with programs set to expire Democrats gear up for last oversight showdown with Trump Divided citizenry and government — a call to action for common ground 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.