Intel: Republican-held Senate sides against Trump on Iran war powers

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The Republican-held Senate passed a resolution 55-45 today to constrain President Donald Trump from initiating offensive military action against Iran, likely setting the stage for a White House veto. Eight Republicans joined forces with Democrats in a rebuke of Trump’s strike against Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani last month after a barrage of attacks on US forces and diplomatic facilities from Iran-backed Iraqi militias.

“With passage of this resolution, we sent a powerful message that we don’t support starting a war with Iran unless Congress votes that military action is necessary,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who introduced the resolution, in a statement after the vote.

The Republicans who bucked the White House to vote for the Kaine resolution are Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Mike Lee of Utah, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Todd Young of Indiana.

Why it matters: Trump’s assassination of Soleimani has prompted Democrats to reassert Congress’ war-making authorities. Democrats argue that the Soleimani strike was illegal as it was not authorized by Congress. Most Republicans have sided with the Trump administration, which has claimed that Soleimani was planning an imminent attack on US assets in Iraq. The strike came after Iran had hit US interests in Iraq with a flurry of rocket attacks, leading to the death of a US contractor in late December. While the Trump administration has briefed Congress on the Soleimani strike behind closed doors, it has refused to publicize the evidence supporting its claim that the Quds Force leader was planning an imminent attack. 

What’s next: The House passed a similar resolution 224-194 last month. But many war powers specialists argue that the House bill, introduced by Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., is nonbinding as it would not require Trump’s signature. While the Kaine resolution could easily pass the Democratic-held House, the White House threatened to veto it today. Anti-war groups and progressive Democrats are also looking to relitigate a fight to cut off funding for offensive military action against Iran in a key defense bill later this year.

Know more: Read congressional correspondent Bryant Harris’ in-depth story outlining how presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and his ally Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., have played a key role in pushing Democrats left on war powers issues. And be sure to check out his coverage of the White House’s fight with Congress over Iran war funding. 

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Found in: Iran-US tensions, Trump

Bryant Harris is Al-Monitor's congressional correspondent. He was previously the White House assistant correspondent for Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest newspaper. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al Jazeera English and IPS News. Prior to his stint in DC, he spent two years as a US Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco. On Twitter: @brykharris_ALM, Email: bharris@al-monitor.com.

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