Senate Votes to Restrain Trump’s War Powers

On February 13, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan bill to limit President Trump’s authority to conduct military action against Iran. The measure, introduced by Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), passed by a 55-45 vote. It was supported by eight Republicans and all 47 Democrats. But the bill did not achieve the two-thirds supermajority necessary to override a presidential veto. The bill was slated to go to the House of Representatives in March; it was expected to pass. 

President Trump had already urged the Senate not to pass the measure. “We are doing very well with Iran and this is not the time to show weakness,” he tweeted on February 12.  “If my hands were tied, Iran would have a field day. Sends a very bad signal.”

Proponents of the bill said that it would help reassert Congress's ability to make or limit war as defined in the constitution. “An offensive war requires a congressional debate and vote,” said Senator Kaine. “If we’re to order our young men and women ... to risk their lives in 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.″

Opponents of the bill had argued that it would limit the president's latitude in responding to Tehran. “If this passes, the president will never abide by it — no president would,” said Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). “I want the Iranians to understand, when it comes to their provocative behavior, all options are on the table.”

The resolution followed a series of bids by the House to reign in Trump’s authority. On January 9, the House passed a separate, nonbinding war powers resolution to limit President Trump’s ability to engage in hostilities outlined in the 1973 War Powers Resolution. On January 30, the House of Representatives passed two additional measures to limit Trump’s war powers, including a repeal of the 2002 congressional authorization for the war in Iraq and a bill to prohibit future tax dollars from funding military action against Iran without congressional approval.

The House and Senate measures came after Trump authorized the killing of Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Qods Force, on January 3. Many Democrats and a smaller number of Republicans thought Congress should have been consulted or notified about the operation because the drone attack could have sparked a wider armed conflict. The following is the full text of the Senate bill.

 

JOINT RESOLUTION

To direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran that have not been authorized by Congress.

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. FINDINGS.

Congress makes the following findings:

(1) Congress has the sole power to declare war under article I, section 8, clause 11 of the United States Constitution.

(2) Congress has not yet declared war upon, nor enacted a specific statutory authorization for use of military force against, the Islamic Republic of Iran. The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107–4050 U.S.C. 1541 note) against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack and the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 (Public Law 107–24350 U.S.C. 1541 note) do not serve as a specific statutory authorization for the use of force against Iran.

(3) The conflict between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran constitutes, within the meaning of section 4(a) of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1543(a)), either hostilities or a situation where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances into which United States Armed Forces have been introduced.

(4) Section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1544(c)) states that “at any time that United States Armed Forces are engaged in hostilities outside the territory of the United States, its possessions and territories without a declaration of war or specific statutory authorization, such forces shall be removed by the President if the Congress so directs”.

(5) Section 8(c) of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1547(c)) defines the introduction of the United States Armed Forces to include “the assignment of members of such armed forces to command, coordinate, participate in the movement of, or accompany the regular or irregular forces of any foreign country or government when such military forces are engaged, or there exists an imminent threat that such forces will become engaged in, hostilities”.

(6) The United States Armed Forces have been introduced into hostilities, as defined by the War Powers Resolution, against Iran.

(7) The question of whether United States forces should be engaged in hostilities against Iran should be answered 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.

(8) Section 1013 of the Department of State Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1984 and 1985 (50 U.S.C. 1546a) provides that any joint resolution or bill to require the removal of United States Armed Forces engaged in hostilities without a declaration of war or specific statutory authorization shall be considered in accordance with the expedited procedures of section 601(b) of the International Security and Arms Export Control Act of 1976.

SEC. 2. TERMINATION OF THE USE OF UNITED STATES FORCES FOR HOSTILITIES AGAINST THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN.

(a) Termination.—Pursuant to section 1013 of the Department of State Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1984 and 1985 (50 U.S.C. 1546a), and in accordance with the provisions of section 601(b) of the International Security Assistance and Arms Export Control Act of 1976, Congress hereby directs the President to terminate the use of United States Armed Forces for hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran or any part of its government or military, unless explicitly authorized by a declaration of war or specific authorization for use of military force against Iran.

(b) Rule Of Construction.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the United States from defending itself from imminent attack.