The Senate on Thursday approved a resolution curbing President Trump’s authority to fight a war with Iran, with eight GOP lawmakers bucking the White House that would mandate explicit congressional approval for a sustained conflict with Tehran.
With tensions between Washington and Tehran at their highest point in years, the 55-45 vote came after lawmakers turned back last-ditch amendment to water down the measure. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suffered a rare floor defeat on the war powers resolution, which by rule was entitled to a floor vote.
“The Iranians will interpret a vote in favor of this resolution as tying the president’s hands,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, said during the debate, echoing President Trump’s tweets from the day before. “And that will lead Iran to believe, once again, that it can get away with anything.”
Lawmakers rejected an amendment from Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, that would have made an exception to the resolution for troops involved in operations against designated terrorist organizations.
Calls to pass the resolution, introduced by Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, came in the wake of the fatal Jan. 3 strike outside Baghdad’s international airport that targeted Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the former commander of the Quds Force. Iran responded with missile attacks on two Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces, with more than 100 American soldiers subsequently treated for traumatic brain injuries.
Supporters of the resolution say Mr. Trump lacks the authority to unilaterally lead the country into armed conflict with Tehran and did not properly consult congressional leaders prior to the Soleimani strike.
Mr. Trump tweeted Wednesday that if his “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 Democrats were able to attract a number of GOP lawmakers, led by Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a known constitutional scholar before coming to Congress.
Other Republicans supporting the measure included Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Todd Young of Indiana, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.
The Democratic House is expected to pass a similar measure but the Senate vote made it clear the resolution would not be able to override a near-certain presidential veto.
Still, Mr. Kaine argued, “After years of Congress avoiding its constitutional duty on matters of war, I’m grateful that a bipartisan majority of senators affirmed that the president cannot send our troops into conflict without authorization.”
Last year, the House and Senate approved a war powers resolution to block U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen’s civil war. Mr. Trump vetoed that measure.
Mr. Lee said Thursday’s floor debate showed there is bipartisan support in Congress for a tough stand against Tehran, despite the effort to constrain President Trump.
“As part of that we want to make sure that any military action that needs to be authorized is in fact properly authorized by Congress,” Mr. Lee said. “That doesn’t show weakness. That shows strength.”’