Congress to clash over Trump's war powers

Democrats will attempt to curb President TrumpDonald TrumpNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 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 SchumerThe bizarre back story of the filibuster Hillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill MORE (D-N.Y.) said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George StephanopoulosGeorge Robert StephanopoulosBrooke Baldwin to leave CNN Fauci: Stimulus bill needs to be passed for schools to reopen Coons blames McConnell for Trump acquittal: We needed 'more Republican courage' MORE.”


“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.


“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 DurbinPartisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Murkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo Democrats ask FBI for plans to address domestic extremism following Capitol attack MORE (Ill.), who along with Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Biden administration to give Congress full classified briefing on Syria strikes by next week Senators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence 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 HollenMenendez reintroduces corporate diversity bill LIVE COVERAGE: Senate set to consider Garland for AG Plaskett quips male lawmakers 'would not have their wives in one attempt talking to her' during impeachment trial 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.


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 CollinsCollins urges Biden to revisit order on US-Canada border limits Media circles wagons for conspiracy theorist Neera Tanden Why the 'Never-Trumpers' flopped MORE (Maine), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesIndigenous groups post billboards urging senators to confirm Deb Haaland Kennedy apologizes for calling Haaland a 'whack job' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help MORE (Mont.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Key vote for Haaland's confirmation | Update on oil and gas leasing | SEC update on climate-related risk disclosure requirements Haaland on drilling lease moratorium: 'It's not going to be a permanent thing' Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March MORE (Utah), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGraham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Senate ref axes minimum wage, House votes today on relief bill Republicans see Becerra as next target in confirmation wars MORE (Alaska), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranGraham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden vs. Trump, part II Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy MORE (Kan.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Health Care: 50 million coronavirus vaccines given | Pfizer news | Biden health nominees Rand Paul criticized for questioning of transgender health nominee Haley isolated after Trump fallout MORE (Ky.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungGraham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers Republican 2024 hopefuls draw early battle lines for post-Trump era MORE (Ind.).

So far no GOP senator has criticized Trump’s action against Iran, although Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Memo: CPAC fires starting gun on 2024 Trump at CPAC foments 2022 GOP primary wars Democrats scramble to rescue minimum wage hike 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 McConnellThe bizarre back story of the filibuster The Bible's wisdom about addressing our political tribalism Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' 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.


“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 SasseTrump at CPAC foments 2022 GOP primary wars Media circles wagons for conspiracy theorist Neera Tanden Republicans see Becerra as next target in confirmation wars MORE (Neb.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech Sunday shows preview: 2024 hopefuls gather at CPAC; House passes coronavirus relief; vaccine effort continues Texas attorney general hits links with Trump before CPAC appearance MORE (Texas) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOvernight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Graham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents John Boehner tells Cruz to 'go f--- yourself' in unscripted audiobook asides: report 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.


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 PelosiMcCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 After vote against coronavirus relief package, Golden calls for more bipartisanship in Congress Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' 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.