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Senate invokes War Powers Act in vote to restrain Trump's military actions in Iran

Sarah D. Wire, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump's ability to use military force against Iran would be restricted unless he first received congressional approval, according to a bipartisan resolution approved by the Senate on Thursday.

But Trump is certain to veto the resolution, and it is unlikely that either the House or Senate would have the two-thirds majority needed to override him, making Thursday's vote more of a symbolic rebuke.

The resolution, sponsored by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., gained steam in the wake of the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Suleimani in early January. A vote was delayed by the impeachment trial of Trump, which under Senate rules had to take precedence over any other legislative action. It passed Thursday 55-45, with eight Republicans joining all Democrats in support.

The resolution asserts that Congress must be consulted for a declaration of war or an authorization of the use of military force before the president can engage in "hostilities" against Iran. It specifies that the president can still act to defend against "imminent attack."

The vote was the latest in the longstanding power struggle between the legislative branch and the executive branch over the use of the military overseas.

"It's not really even about the president. It's about Congress," Kaine said. "It's about Congress fully inhabiting our Article 1 role (in the Constitution) to declare war, and taking that deliberation seriously."

 

Congress has let its power to declare war granted by the Constitution "atrophy" by failing to exercise it, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said.

Democrats passed the resolution with the help of Republicans frustrated that Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and CIA Director Gina Haspel provided few specific details behind closed doors last month about what imminent threat existed that warranted Suleimani's killing. The attack set off several tense days of concerns about how Iran would respond.

The administration said the killing, which occurred in Iraq, was covered under previous authorizations for the use of military force that Congress passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Opponents of the resolution warned it would be viewed internationally as Congress tying the president's hands and opening the door for bad actors to strike with impunity.

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