Senate Democrats say they have enough votes to curb Trump’s war powers after strike on Iranian general

WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats said Tuesday that they have enough votes to win passage of a resolution to limit President Donald Trump’s ability to wage war with Iran.  

“We now have a majority of colleagues, Democratic and Republican, who will stand strong for the principle that we shouldn’t be at war without a vote of Congress,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said. 

Kaine is the chief sponsor of a resolution that would bar Trump from using military force against Iran unless Congress specifically votes to authorize such action. The Virginia Democrat said the legislation could come up for a Senate vote as early as next week.

The U.S. should not order American troops to risk their lives in the Middle East “unless we have the guts to have the debate and have the vote to say that a war is in the national interest,” Kaine said. 

Democrats have argued that Trump acted recklessly when he authorized a drone strike killing Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani – a controversial decision that has heightened U.S.-Iran tensions and sparked fears of a broader conflict in the Middle East.

Republicans hold a 53-seat majority, and most GOP senators are expected to oppose the resolution, arguing it’s unnecessary and unconstitutional. But Kaine said four GOP senators have agreed to support his resolution: Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine and Todd Young of Indiana. 

Young had expressed concerns about an earlier version of Kaine’s bill. But Kaine said he has revised it to win more GOP support, and a spokeswoman for Young, Amy Grappone, confirmed Tuesday that he will support the revised bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the war powers measure a “blunt instrument” and suggested it could project American weakness at a critical moment.

“Consider what message the Senate should send to Iran and the world at the very moment that America’s actions are challenging the calculus in Tehran for the better,” McConnell said in a Senate floor speech on Monday. “We appear to have restored a measure of deterrence in the Middle East, so let’s not screw it up.”

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee, joined at right by Sen.Tom Carper, D-Del., responds to reporters following a briefing on the details of the threat that prompted the U.S. to kill Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, AP)

The House of Representatives passed a similar resolution last week, but GOP leaders slammed it as a meaningless PR stunt. Unlike the Senate measure, the House bill does not carry the force of law; Trump can ignore it.

Kaine’s version, by contrast, carries the force of law. 

 Lee said he decided to vote for Kaine’s resolution last week after Trump administration officials delivered a classified briefing on the Soleimani strike that he called “insulting and demeaning.” Lee said officials warned lawmakers against debating the merits of war with Iran, arguing it would “embolden” Tehran to see division in Congress. 

The message in that closed-door briefing was that “we need to be good little boys and girls and not debate this in public,” Lee said. “I find that absolutely insane. It’s un-American, it’s unconstitutional, and it’s wrong.” 

Even if Kaine’s resolution passes the Senate and the House, Trump is likely to veto it. There’s little chance Kaine and his allies could get the two-thirds super-majority needed to override a veto. 

But debate in Congress will likely ratchet up pressure on Trump to justify his decision. The president and his advisers have given conflicting accounts of the intelligence behind the decision.

AG Barr: ‘The president clearly had the authority to act’ in Soleimani strike

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo initially suggested Soleimani was planning an “imminent” attack on U.S. interests in the Middle East – and then later said he didn’t know where or when that attack would unfold. 

Trump said on Friday that Soleimani was planning an attack against four U.S. embassies. But on Sunday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he had not seen intelligence to support that assertion.

“Each passing day raises new questions about the strike that killed General Soleimani,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Was there really an imminent threat? Was it part of a larger operation? What was the legal justification?”

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