WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a war powers resolution Thursday that constrains President Donald Trump’s ability to authorize military strikes against Iran.
The resolution from Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine received bipartisan support. It passed 55–45 with eight Republicans voting with Democrats in favor. However, Trump has signaled he will veto the resolution, and there are not enough votes in Congress to override the veto.
Kaine introduced the resolution in early January after escalating tensions with Iran culminated in an American strike killing Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Iran responding by firing missiles at two American bases in Iraq. The administration gave Congress a briefing to justify the strike after the fact, which didn’t satisfy Democrats and infuriated two administration allies, Republican Sens. Mike Lee and Rand Paul.
“The nation should not be at war without a vote of Congress,” said Kaine Wednesday. “Even if he chooses to veto it and we can’t override, the will of both bodies and the public they represent, that could be a factor in his decision making.”
At a press conference following Thursday's vote, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer gave an optimistic spin. "Miracles happen," he said. "Maybe President Trump will come to his senses and not veto this.”
The resolution would “direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran that have not been authorized by Congress.” Earlier this year the House passed a similar resolution, though unlike Kaine’s, the House version was nonbinding.
In two tweets Wednesday, Trump had urged Republicans to vote against the motion.
“It is very important for our Country’s SECURITY that the United States Senate not vote for the Iran War Powers Resolution. We are doing very well with Iran and this is not the time to show weakness. Americans overwhelmingly support our attack on terrorist Soleimani,” he tweeted. “If my hands were tied, Iran would have a field day. Sends a very bad signal. The Democrats are only doing this as an attempt to embarrass the Republican Party. Don’t let it happen!”
But later that afternoon eight Republican senators — Lee, Paul, Lamar Alexander, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Jerry Moran, Lisa Murkowski, and Todd Young — voted with Democrats to move the resolution forward for a vote. Those eight Republicans also voted in favor of passing the resolution Thursday.
Lee made pains Wednesday to praise the president as the least war-prone president he has known in his lifetime and stressed that the resolution would not weaken him.
“This is not about wanting a weak presidency or a weak commander in chief. This is really about the proper allocation of power between the three branches of government,” said Lee. “There is abundant support [in Congress] for the United States taking tough positions with regard to Iran.”
Article I, section 8, clause 11 of the Constitution says it is the responsibility of Congress to declare war. But over the past two decades that power has largely been ceded to the White House as successive presidents have launched hundreds of military strikes around the globe without congressional signoff.
Legally, military actions have been justified using the 60-word 2001 authorization of use of military force that was passed by Congress to respond to the 9/11 attacks, and a 2002 authorization to attack Iraq. Supporters of Kaine’s resolution argue these AUMFs are badly out of date and Congress has the responsibility to vote on authorizing military actions against Iran.
“Many members of Congress would like to race away from that and say, ‘No, I’d just rather blame the president if it turns out badly.’ The Constitution doesn’t give us that luxury,” said Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin.
The House voted to repeal the 2002 AUMF late last month, but the Senate hasn’t addressed the bill.
With the majority of Senate Republicans backing the president, Trump can safely veto Kaine’s resolution. To override the veto would require two-thirds of support in both the House and the Senate.
Last year Congress passed a war powers resolution to end US support of Saudi-backed military intervention in Yemen. Trump vetoed the resolution and there was not enough support to override it.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham called war powers resolutions an “unconstitutional intrusion” on the ability of a president to defend the nation. Graham said the best thing Congress can do is to cut off funding when they disapprove of military actions.
“Can you imagine what would happen if our nation had to respond in real time and you had to get 535 members of Congress to agree on anything?”
Kadia Goba contributed reporting to this story.