U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) threw his lot in with his Democrat colleagues Thursday to try to block President Donald Trump from using his war powers authority to handle attacks by Iran without begging for congressional approval first.
With a final tally of 55-45, the Senate approved the resolution. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who joined Alexander in defecting, said Congress should be involved in such decisions.
Collins, and Alexander – who took time out to film a video about the coronavirus – were among eight Republicans who voted against Trump.
On Wednesday, Alexander also was one of eight Republicans who joined with Democrats to begin debating on a resolution of “hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran or any part of its government or military, unless explicitly authorized” by Congress, according to a story by Roll Call. U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) is the sponsor.
The vote tally on Wednesday was 51 yes, 45 no, 4 not voting. Each senator’s vote is available at the link from the Senate website.
According to Roll Call:
Kaine’s resolution is privileged under the 1973 War Powers Act, which means he is able to force a debate and vote on it with only a majority of votes, rather than the more common 60-vote threshold for legislative measures.
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN-05) is the sponsor of the resolution in the House.
Even if the House approves the measure, it is expected that Trump would veto it. Democrats lack the two-thirds votes necessary in both chambers to overturn a veto.
Alexander joined with Democrats in rebuking the Commander-in-Chief for killing Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, whom Trump said planned to blow up the American embassy in Baghdad.
Trump said on Twitter, “If my hands were tied, Iran would have a field day. Sends a very bad signal. The Democrats are only doing this as an attempt to embarrass the Republican Party. Don’t let it happen!”
….If my hands were tied, Iran would have a field day. Sends a very bad signal. The Democrats are only doing this as an attempt to embarrass the Republican Party. Don’t let it happen!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2020
Another Senator to vote with the Democrats was Utah Republican Mike Lee, who took to the airwaves to defend his “yes” vote, saying that the Resolution deals only with “offensive” actions, and would not apply to “defensive” actions.
“We as a Congress need to reclaim the power to declare war,” Lee said in an interview with Fox News’ Dana Perino shortly after the vote.
Over the course of many decades we have seen Congress essentially forfeiting its authority to declare war, and waiting for presidents to act. We believe that it’s more appropriate that whenever we’re going to put U.S. lives on the line, we think that Congress needs to authorize that in the form of a Declaration of War.
This is a precedent that stretches all the way back to George Washington when Americans were attacked by the Miami and Wabash Indians, and President Washington identified the difference between a defensive response and an offensive attack. The latter requires Congressional authorization – that’s all we’re requiring here.
Lee was asked point-blank if the targeting of Iranian General Soleimani was an “offensive” attack or “defensive” response, and he answered: “It was defensive.”
However, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) – who supported Trump in the vote – told The New York Times, “If this passes, the president will never abide by it — no president would. I want the Iranians to understand, when it comes to their provocative behavior, all options are on the table.”
The vote was the latest by Congress over the past year to control Trump’s war powers. Last year, Congress attempted to use the War Powers Act to stop military support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen’s civil war, The Times said.
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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.