Congress to clash over Trump's war powers

Democrats will attempt to curb President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group 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 SchumerVeronica Escobar to give Spanish-language response to Trump State of the Union address The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democrats turn to obstruction charge Liberal super PAC to run digital ads slamming Trump over Medicare comments MORE (D-N.Y.) said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George StephanopoulosGeorge Robert StephanopoulosGOP senator on Trump soliciting foreign interference: 'Those are just statements' Alan Dershowitz: Argument president cannot be impeached for abusing power a 'strong one' Pelosi: Trump is 'impeached for life' 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 DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment GOP senator calls for public health emergency over new coronavirus Tensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum MORE (Ill.), who along with Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineIran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner House war powers sponsor expects to take up Senate version of resolution Sens. Kaine, Lee: 'We should not be at war with Iran unless Congress authorizes it' 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 HollenFox's Napolitano: There is 'ample and uncontradicted' evidence supporting Trump's removal from office Sen. Van Hollen releases documents from GAO investigation Democrats shoot down talk of Bolton, Hunter Biden witness swap 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 CollinsSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Schiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment MORE (Maine), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Lawmakers introduce bill to reform controversial surveillance authorities Koch network could target almost 200 races in 2020, official says MORE (Mont.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe self-fulfilling Iran prophecy No patriotic poll bump for Trump, but Soleimani strike may still help him politically Senators are politicians, not jurors — they should act like it MORE (Utah), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Nadler calls Trump a 'dictator' on Senate floor MORE (Alaska), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranSchiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Senate Republicans confident they'll win fight on witnesses McConnell keeps press in check as impeachment trial starts MORE (Kan.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLindsey Graham will oppose subpoena of Hunter Biden Marsha Blackburn shares what book she's reading during Trump Senate trial Sekulow indicates Trump should not attend impeachment trial MORE (Ky.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungRestlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on Impeachment trial forces senators to scrap fundraisers Iran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner MORE (Ind.).

So far no GOP senator has criticized Trump’s action against Iran, although Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOvernight Defense: Veterans group seeks Trump apology for comments on brain injuries | Pentagon says dozens of troops suffered traumatic injuries after attack | Trump unveils Space Force logo Lindsey Graham will oppose subpoena of Hunter Biden Senators push Pentagon on Syria strategy after withdrawal uproar, Soleimani strike 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 McConnellCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Impeachment throws curveball in Iowa to sidelined senators 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 SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseCommerce Department withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon pushback: reports  The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems to present case on abuse of power on trial's third day Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on MORE (Neb.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzJordan says he thinks trial will be over by next week The Hill's Morning Report — Dems detail case to remove Trump for abuse of power GOP-Biden feud looms over impeachment trial MORE (Texas) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Schiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment 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 PelosiCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Social Security emerges as flash point in Biden-Sanders fight | Dems urge Supreme Court to save consumer agency | Trump to sign USMCA next week Veronica Escobar to give Spanish-language response to Trump State of the Union address 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.