Iran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner

Iran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner
© Greg Nash

Supporters of a resolution to constrain President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Trump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump MORE’s ability to wage war with Iran are worried tensions with Tehran could flare up again while the Senate’s impeachment trial leaves the measure in limbo.

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineCongress set for chaotic year-end sprint Democrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus MORE (D-Va.), the lead sponsor of the resolution, is hopeful that a deal will be reached to take up the measure at the same time as the impeachment trial.

But when asked about timing on Kaine’s resolution, the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal Top GOP senator warns government funding deal unlikely this week Criminal justice groups offer support for Durbin amid fight for Judiciary spot MORE (R-Ky.) told The Hill in an email that “everything is on ice until the trial is over,” suggesting it will be weeks before senators vote on the Iran measure.


That has led to fears of a new international incident occurring before senators can act on the resolution, which directs Trump to "terminate the use of United States Armed Forces for hostilities” against Iran.

“I still don’t think Iran has total control over its proxy forces, and I still think there’s disagreement within the Iranian regime as to whether their retaliation is done,” Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: Defense bill among Congress's year-end scramble | Iranian scientist's assassination adds hurdles to Biden's plan on nuclear deal | Navy scrapping USS Bonhomme Richard after fire Biden faces new Iran challenges after nuclear scientist killed New Jersey to halt indoor sports, cap outside gatherings MORE (D-Conn.) said.

Tensions with Iran have settled down in recent days after reaching the brink of war following a U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and a retaliatory Iranian missile strike on an Iraqi military base housing U.S. troops. But there are signs the crisis is not over.

On Thursday night, the Pentagon revealed that 11 U.S. troops were evacuated from Iraq and taken to hospitals in Germany and Kuwait for treatment for concussions suffered during Iran’s attack on Al Asad Air Base. U.S. officials initially said there were no U.S. casualties in the missile strike.

And on Friday, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, excoriated American leaders as “clowns” when he led Friday prayers for the first time in eight years.

Meanwhile, anti-government protesters in Iran have poured into the streets over the country's accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet during the missile strike against U.S. forces, with Trump and other administration officials expressing their support for the demonstrations.


Additionally, questions about the Trump administration’s justification for the Soleimani strike refuse to die down as its explanations continue to morph.

Democrats who support the measure notched a victory this past week when they secured the support of four Republican senators after Kaine made changes.

Specifically, Kaine took out explicit references to Trump and reworded a passage that some were concerned could signal a U.S. retreat from the Middle East.

With every Democrat expected to support it, four Republicans give the resolution the requisite simple majority to pass.

The Republican supporters, however, didn’t want to take a procedural vote on Kaine’s original resolution and then amend the measure on the floor. Doing so would have allowed Kaine to force a vote on the resolution this past week before the impeachment trial started.

Instead, Kaine introduced the updated version as its own resolution. The earliest Kaine could force a vote on the second version is Tuesday, the same day the impeachment trial is set to start in earnest.

Tuesday’s schedule has the Senate convening at 12:30 p.m., with the trial starting at 1 p.m.

Kaine said this past week he has “a feeling” legislation will be taken up during the trial because “both sides have things they want to do.”

“But there’s no agreement yet,” he added.

Kaine also said he’s worried about the state of U.S.-Iran tensions “for reasons far more momentous than my piece of legislation.”

Sen. 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.), one of the Republican supporters of the amended Kaine resolution, noted that “you can do most anything with consent in the Senate” when asked about scheduling the vote during the impeachment trial.

“But we may have to look a bit longer term in order to be able to consider this,” Young added.


Should tensions start to boil again in the interim, Young said he thinks “Congress will do the right thing, and the administration [will] do the right thing.”

“But I do of course want to vote on this as soon as absolutely possible,” he added.

A vote on the resolution may not be the only Iran-related work stalled by the trial. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is working to reschedule a canceled classified briefing from State Department officials on Iran and the administration’s authority for the use of force.

A committee spokeswoman told The Hill on Friday the panel is hoping to reschedule the briefing for “some time in the next few weeks,” adding senators “anticipate it can still happen during impeachment” if takes place in the morning before the trial starts for the day.

Once the Senate passes the resolution, the House will have to take it up. The House passed its own war powers measure earlier this month, but it’s a different type of resolution than Kaine’s. Rep. Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinBickering Democrats return with divisions Questions swirl at Pentagon after wave of departures Overnight Defense: Another Defense official resigns | Pentagon chief says military 'remains strong' despite purge | Top contender for Biden DOD secretary would be historic pick MORE (D-Mich.), who sponsored the House version, has said she expects the lower chamber will vote on Kaine’s once it passes the Senate.

In the meantime, the House is scheduled to vote on two other Iran-related bills the last week of January. One would block any funding for military action against Iran and the other would repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force, which the Trump administration has used in its legal justification for the Soleimani strike.

Both of those are considered dead on arrival in the Senate. Both were passed by the House last year as part of the annual defense policy bill, but were stripped out of the final version signed into law because of opposition from Senate Republicans. And neither bill is a privileged resolution, meaning there is no built-in mechanism to force a vote in the Senate.