WASHINGTON – Eight Senate Republicans broke with President Donald Trump on Thursday – joining all the chamber’s Democrats to support legislation that would restrict the president’s ability to wage war with Iran.
The 55-45 vote marked a rare bipartisan effort to curb Trump’s powers and underscored lawmakers’ concerns that U.S. tensions with Iran could escalate into a full-fledged war.
Democrats said Congress had to act to rein in an unpredictable president, arguing Trump brought the United States to the brink of war with Iran when he green-lighted a deadly strike targeting Tehran’s most powerful military leader, Gen. Qasem Soleimani.
“I fear that the president’s erratic decision-making, his lack of strategy, his inability to control his impulses may bumble us into a war … even if he doesn’t intend it,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said during Thursday’s debate.
Schumer said Thursday’s vote was “a clear shot across the bow” to Trump that Congress will not support another “endless war” in the Middle East.
Sen. Todd Young, an ex-Marine and conservative Indiana Republican, praised Trump’s decision to target Soleimani but said lawmakers have an obligation to debate the use of U.S. military force.
“For nearly two decades, Congress has been AWOL on certain matters of national security and attempted to pass the buck to our commander in chief when things go wrong,” Young said. “It’s time for us to do our job.”
Most of the Senate’s 53 Republicans voted against the measure, which would direct the president to terminate the use of U.S. military force engaged in “hostilities against Iran” unless explicitly authorized by Congress.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that she would bring the Senate measure up for a House vote this month. Even if it passes the House, Trump is almost certain to veto it. There’s little chance that proponents of the measure could get the two-thirds House and Senate supermajority needed to override a veto.
“It is very important for our Country’s SECURITY that the United States Senate not vote for the Iran War Powers Resolution,” Trump tweeted Wednesday. “We are doing very well with Iran and this is not the time to show weakness.”
Republican opponents said the Senate proposal would severely limit the Pentagon’s ability to defend the USA against threats posed by Iran. They blasted Democrats for their criticism of the Soleimani killing.
“This was not some reckless act. It was a calculated and limited response to a significant, growing threat of attack against U.S. personnel in Iraq by an emboldened adversary,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a Senate floor speech this week. Trump’s decision, he said, restored deterrence and reduced the risk of war.
The chief sponsor of the measure, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said the debate was less about Trump’s Iran strategy and more about Congress exercising its constitutional responsibilities to declare war.
“An offensive war requires a congressional debate and vote. This should not be a controversial proposition,” Kaine said during Wednesday’s debate. “If we’re to order our young men and women … to risk their lives in health and war, it should be on the basis of careful deliberation by the people’s elected legislature and not on the say-so of any one person.”
Kaine conceded he didn’t have enough support to override a veto but said he hoped Trump would be influenced by the congressional vote.
“We’re listening to our constituents, and we’re telling him blundering into another war” would be a mistake, Kaine said.
In addition to Young, the other Republicans who voted “yes” on the resolution were: Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Lee dismissed criticism from his fellow GOP lawmakers that the measure would tie Trump’s hands or signal “weakness” on the part of the United States.
“We don’t send a message of weakness when we stand up for the rule of law,” Lee said Wednesday. “That’s a message of strength.”