McConnell Urges Defeat of Measure Limiting Trump’s Iran Options

Daniel Flatley and Laura Litvan

(Bloomberg) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged senators to reject a measure that would restrict President Donald Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran without congressional authorization.

A small group of Republicans have joined with Democrats to rein in the president after expressing frustration with the administration’s justification for the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

The resolution, which the Senate will take up this week, “would severely limit the U.S. military’s operations flexibility to defend itself against threats posed by Iran,” McConnell said Tuesday on the Senate floor. He called the Jan. 3 attack on Soleimani a “limited yet decisive precision strike” that eliminated a growing threat to U.S. personnel.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters he expects the war-powers legislation to pass the Senate, which he said will send a strong message to the administration.

“The president will veto it, but it sends a shot across his bow that the majority of the Senate and the majority of the House do not want the president waging war without congressional approval,” Schumer, a New York Democrat, said.

Four Republican senators are co-sponsoring the resolution with Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine. It would bar U.S. troops from engaging in hostilities against Iran or any part of its government or military, unless Congress declared war or specifically authorized the use of military force.

“This is not about bucking the president,” Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, said Monday. “This about making sure the process works as the Constitution requires.”

The GOP support, along with the 47 Democrats, will provide the 51 votes needed for the Senate to pass the resolution. The House passed a similar measure in January but would need to pass Kaine’s resolution for the legislation to go to Trump’s desk. The president is likely to veto it, and the Senate lacks the votes for an override.

“We’re likely to start the debate on Wednesday afternoon,” Kaine said. “We’ll probably have it done by Thursday.”

Trump ordered the drone strike that killed Soleimani in Baghdad. Some lawmakers, especially Democrats, have said the White House repeatedly shifted its justification for the strike.

Drawing Partisan Lines

In his remarks, McConnell worked to draw partisan lines in advance of the debate.

After Soleimani’s killing, “Washington Democrats immediately suggested President Trump was leading us into World War III,” the majority leader said. He said the resolution is a “blunt and clumsy” measure and asked whether it’s wise to “let a power like Iran push us around” with China and Russia watching.

McConnell also asked whether Democrats agree with leading Democratic presidential contenders who have said Trump erred in his action.

The Senate measure, S.J.Res. 68, includes changes sought by Republicans who were frustrated by a classified briefing in January by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and other administration officials. Lee said it was the worst briefing he’d ever received on military matters.

Republicans Rand Paul of Kentucky, Todd Young of Indiana and Susan Collins of Maine are also co-sponsoring the Senate measure.

Paul said he’s not aware of any other Republicans who would vote for the measure. Some who might support it in the “abstract” may not want to go against Trump, he said.

Presidential Contenders

“The unfortunate part of this is that if you ask people in the abstract, ‘Should we have a vote in Congress before we go to war,’ you might have 20 Republicans say yes,” Paul said. “Because it’s perceived as being against a Republican president, a lot less do.”

“A lot of people won’t vote for it even if they might under either a Democrat president or in the abstract; that’s what limits our numbers,” Paul said.

With four Democratic senators -- Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Michael Bennet of Colorado -- in New Hampshire for the presidential primary Tuesday, holding the vote late Wednesday or Thursday would give them time to return to Washington.

The House resolution similar to Kaine’s is sponsored by Representative Elissa Slot kin, a Michigan Democrat and a former CIA analyst.

The House also has passed other bills related to the Soleimani operation, including two in January from Representatives Ro Khanna and Barbara Lee, both of California, that would defund military action against Iran not authorized by Congress. It also would repeal a 2002 authorization for the use of military force that the administration has cited as part of its justification for the strike on Soleimani.

(Adds Schumer and Paul comments starting in fourth paragraph)

To contact the reporters on this story: Daniel Flatley in Washington at dflatley1@bloomberg.net;Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Laurie Asséo

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