The Senate is set to pass on Thursday a bipartisan resolution to limit President Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran, handing the president a rebuke on foreign policy a week after voting to acquit him in his impeachment trial.
As many as eight Republicans are expected to vote for the resolution, which directs the president to terminate the use of the U.S. armed forces in hostilities against Iran.
All eight voted Wednesday afternoon, along with 43 Democrats, to bring the measure to the floor. Three members of the Democratic caucus who are running for president — Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Miss.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — missed the procedural vote. They are expected to be back on Thursday for the final up and down vote.
Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced the resolution after Trump in January ordered a drone strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force.
The attack prompted a retaliatory Iranian missile strike against two bases in Iraq that house U.S. troops, more than 100 of whom were left with brain injuries.
The unexpected move to take out Soleimani, a revered figure in Iran, was seen by many experts as a provocation that could lead to a wider regional conflict. It put Congress in a state of high alert until Trump tweeted that he did not expect any further escalation.
Republican senators who support the resolution have taken pains to remove references to Trump, in order to avoid the appearance of taking a shot at the president.
But their defiance shows that foreign policy has become a major source of friction between the president and some members of his party.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said, “You’ve got members of ours who traditionally have held the view that you don’t want to be involved in foreign entanglements.”
“And then we got other members … who think that constitutionally Congress needs to claw back some more of the powers we’ve given up to the executive when it comes to where and when we deploy American power around the world,” he said.
“It’s evidence that there are folks in our caucus who on foreign policy and national security matters come down in a slightly different place,” he added.
The wave of GOP defections is all the more remarkable after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) came out strongly in opposition to the measure.
The GOP leader on Tuesday called the resolution “deeply flawed on a number of levels.”
He called it an overly aggressive interpretation of the 1974 War Powers Act that would go too far in tying the president’s hands in responding to national security threats.
“It is too blunt and too broad. It is also an abuse of the War Powers Act, which was designed to strike a balance between the President’s constitutional war powers and Congress’s own war powers and oversight responsibilities,” McConnell said on the floor.
McConnell drew a parallel between the Democratic effort to impeach Trump and remove him from office to this week’s attempt to limit his war powers.
“No patience for ordinary oversight; just rush to grab the bluntest tool available to make a political statement against the president,” he said.
“Well, this war powers debate bears an eerie resemblance to that pattern,” he added, referring to the recently concluded impeachment effort.
While Republican lawmakers have been reluctant to criticize Trump’s conduct — as evidenced by all but one GOP senator voting to acquit the president on both articles of impeachment — they have been more willing to fight over the balance of power between the White House and Congress.
Young, a Republican co-sponsor of the resolution, said, “I think it’s important that Congress consistently affirm our support for our troops. There’s no better way to do that than casting our vote to authorize force when necessary.”
The Senate voted in March to direct the president to stop U.S. military support of a Saudi-backed coalition fighting in the civil war in Yemen. Seven Republicans broke party ranks to support the resolution: Lee, Collins, Moran, Murkowski, Paul, Young and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.).
Daines, who is up for reelection this year in a solidly pro-Trump state, is the only Republican who has dropped off the bloc of GOP senators who want to rein in the president’s war-making powers.
Although Trump vetoed last year’s resolution, proponents of the measure argued it had an effect because the administration stopped refueling Saudi warplanes after Congress acted.
Thursday’s rebuke of Trump’s war powers vis-a-vis Iran will, too, be viewed as largely symbolic.
Trump is expected to veto the measure, and GOP leaders say there aren’t 67 votes in the upper chamber to override him. A similar bill passed earlier this year by the House is a concurrent resolution and will not go to Trump’s desk.
“They’re not going to be at the requisite number to actually succeed in the end,” said Thune.
Paul, a staunch Trump ally, says he is motivated to restore Congress’s constitutional powers.
He argues that the White House merely feels obliged to consult with Congress ahead of a major military action and doesn’t feel any real constraint from launching strikes.
“It’s not supposed to be about advice, it’s supposed to be about permission. The Constitution says we go to war with the permission of Congress,” Paul said.
Paul believes it’s important to retrench the president’s war powers after an authorization for the use of military force passed by Congress shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks has been used to justify hostilities around the world for nearly 20 years.
The 2001 authorization states the “president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred.”
“When we went to war in 2001, it was very clear cut. It was sixty words. It says nothing about association forces. It says nothing about 50 different wars in Africa or throughout the Middle East,” Paul said.