WASHINGTON — Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine has introduced a war powers resolution to cease hostilities with Iran until military actions are approved by Congress.
After 10 days, Kaine can force a vote on his motion in the Senate, which cannot be blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Kaine’s move comes after President Donald Trump authorized the killing of Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani Thursday in Iraq, and amid expectations of retaliation by Iran.
“The question of whether United States forces should be engaged in armed conflict against Iran should only be made following a full briefing to Congress and the American public of the issues at stake, a public debate in Congress, and a congressional vote as contemplated by the Constitution,” states the resolution.
If passed, Kaine's resolution would direct Trump to remove US forces “from hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran or any part of its government or military” within 30 days, unless Congress acts to authorize military action.
Trump did not brief the congressional leadership “Gang of Eight” — the heads of each party in the House and Senate, as well as the leaders of each party in the House and Senate Intelligence Committees — about the Soleimani attack in advance. Trump did, however, brief Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was golfing with the president at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida in advance of the attack. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was also with Trump at Mar-a-Lago during the attack Thursday.
McConnell said Friday that senators would receive a briefing on the strike next week.
Earlier this year, both the House and the Senate passed a similar resolution that would have forced the United States to back away from a Saudi-led proxy war against Iran in Yemen. Trump vetoed the resolution, and there was not enough support — two-thirds in each chamber — to override the veto.
Congress has repeatedly ceded its authority to authorize wars over to the executive branch. The open-ended, 60-word Authorization for the Use of Military Force resolution passed by Congress in 2001 was intended to authorize military operations in Afghanistan as a response to 9/11, but it has been used to justify countless military operations around the globe over the past two decades. Another resolution was passed in 2002 to expand the campaign into Iraq.
National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien said Friday that the 2002 AUMF provided the legal justification for the Soleimani strike. He said that the administration became aware that Soleimani was plotting to attack American forces, but O'Brien would not give any details about what those plots entailed.
Kaine and other Democrats have long pushed to allow the previous AUMFs to expire and require presidents to get new authorizations from Congress for new and ongoing conflicts. His resolution states that neither of these previous authorizations allows for war with Iran. “[The previous resolutions] do not serve as a specific statutory authorization for war against Iran, and neither authorize any such action,” the resolution states.
The Trump administration has said it killed Soleimani because he was “actively developing” future attacks on United States personnel. Trump briefly spoke publicly Friday and said he took action “to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.”
Last year the House approved a bipartisan amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have prohibited offensive strikes against Iran. But that amendment was taken out by the Senate and ultimately not included in the version passed by Congress.
Amendment sponsor Rep. Ro Khanna said he is still thinking through next steps following the Soleimani killing. “Given this Administration's lawless track record, it was particularly important that Congress include these amendments specifically prohibiting an offensive attack against Iran and repealing the authority Congress previously granted to attack Iraq,” he said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
A spokesperson for the House Foreign Affairs Committee said members of the committee are discussing legislative options and will have a clearer path forward when the House returns to Washington next week.
Kadia Goba contributed to this story.