In Bid to Restrain Trump, Senate Passes War Powers Resolution

WASHINGTON (CN) — In a rebuke to President Donald Trump, the Senate on Thursday approved a resolution that would limit the president’s authority to take military action against Iran without approval from Congress.

The resolution, which passed the Senate 55–45 on Thursday afternoon, would bar Trump from taking further military action against Iran without a vote from Congress. Marshaled by Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va., the resolution came together in response to the drone strike Trump authorized last month to kill Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

President Donald Trump delivers a Jan. 8 address from the White House on the ballistic missile strike that Iran launched against Iraqi air bases housing U.S. troops, as Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and military leaders look on. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Republican Senators Lamar Alexander, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Mike Lee, Jerry Moran, Lisa Murkowski, Rand Paul and Todd Young joined with all 47 Democrats in supporting the resolution.

Kaine said he is hopeful the resolution’s passage portends success for other attempts to reassert Congress’ role in declaring war. He said he talked with other Republican senators who said they were supportive of the resolution’s goals but did not want to vote for it in the context of the Soleimani strike.

“Congress has abdicated its responsibility for so long — for so long — that this vote shows Congress and the Senate getting back into it,” Kaine told reporters after the vote. “But it’s only a start.”

The strike on Soleimani, and the administration’s subsequent attempts to explain it to Congress, drew rebuke from lawmakers and revived a long-simmering conversation about Congress’ role in authorizing military action.

The Constitution vests Congress with the authority to declare war, but that power has gradually eroded over time through a combination of presidential insistence and congressional inaction.

Proponents of the Iran resolution said it is a critical step necessary to help restore the balance between Congress and the president in the grave matter of sending U.S. troops into danger.

“It should be the Congress of the United States that should make that decision, on behalf of the American people,” Senator Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said on the Senate floor Thursday. “Looking our sons and daughters in the eyes and saying, ‘Yes, this is worthy of the national security of the United States.’”

Before passing the resolution, senators defeated an amendment offered by Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., that would have added an exemption for the use of force against groups the federal government has designated as foreign terrorist organizations.

Democrats and Republican proponents of the resolution said Cotton’s amendment would have effectively gutted the resolution’s core purpose by allowing Trump and future presidents to easily bypass Congress.

“This would basically destroy the underlying bill by allowing the president to add to the FTO list, not come to Congress, and then take military action,” Kaine said on the Senate floor.

Trump has promised to veto the resolution and given the margin it earned Thursday in the Republican-controlled chamber; the resolution is unlikely to garner the two-thirds majority support necessary to override the veto.

“This joint resolution is untimely and misguided,” the White House said in a statement of administration policy. “Its adoption by Congress could undermine the ability of the United States to protect American citizens whom Iran continues to seek to harm.”

The House passed a separate, nonbinding resolution on Iran in January and  is expected to take up the Senate measure in the near future.

The move is the latest case of the Senate voting, if only symbolically, to rebuke Trump in instances where lawmakers say he has stepped into Congress’ role. With Republican support, the Senate has twice voted to end the emergency Trump declared in order to tap money from other areas of government to use on construction of his long-promised border wall.

The Republican-controlled Senate has also voted to end U.S. support of the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

But the vote also comes a week after the Senate voted almost entirely along party lines to acquit Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress charges in his impeachment trial.

Kaine told reporters after the vote he is hopeful the resolution will influence Trump to be cautious with his posture towards Iran, similar to how the Senate’s vote on the war in Yemen caused a change in the administration’s policy towards that conflict.

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