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Senate Democrats will seek to force vote on Trump authority for Iran war

Sen. Tim Kaine quotes ’Dr. Strangelove‘ after Armed Services panel thwarts vote on the question

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., will seek a vote in relation to war with Iran during the floor debate on the defense authorization. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., will seek a vote in relation to war with Iran during the floor debate on the defense authorization. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

If some key Democrats get their way, the Senate will have to vote on the limits of President Donald Trump’s ability to go to war with Iran.

The vote would come as part of floor debate on the fiscal 2020 defense authorization. The Senate Armed Services Committee last week turned back an effort to express opposition to military action against Iran without a new authorization from Congress, except in cases of self-defense.

Members of the Armed Services Committee voted 14-13 that an amendment from Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine was outside the jurisdiction of the panel.

“The Armed Services Committee is not able to talk about military activity in Iran. It’s like the scene in Dr. Strangelove where … there will be no fighting in the war room. It was amazing to me,” Kaine said. “I think it was surprising to a number of the members of the committee, that one day after having a classified all-members meeting to talk specifically about this issue, we were not able to take it up in the committee.”

Kaine said he and other Democratic senators would seek a floor vote during the defense debate, which could take place in the middle of June.

“We will be able to take it up on the floor. The jurisdictional objection was just an objection to the committee action. It’s not an objection on the floor,” Kaine said during a brief interview on May 23.

The procedural problem came about because it is the Foreign Relations Committee, on which Kaine also serves, that generally has jurisdiction over authorizations for the use of military force and related policy matters. 

“Every Republican voted to not allow discussion in Armed Services of my Iran resolution,” Kaine said. “Check out the lineup of who believes this is a matter of critical importance to discuss before the public and who seems reticent to do that.”

Over at the Senate Foreign Relations panel, New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall got a vote on a similar amendment last week, though that effort with Connecticut Democrat Christopher S. Murphy came up well short of adoption, 9-13.

Udall said after the markup that he was concerned about the possibility of an imminent military conflict.

“With this building up, there’s a huge potential for miscalculation. When we return, we could be in the middle of a war,” Udall said.

During his just-concluded trip to Japan, Trump stressed that he was not seeking to oust the current Iranian leadership.

“I think Iran has tremendous potential,” Trump said during a news conference in Tokyo, adding that he knew many people who were from Iran.

“It has a chance to be a great country, with the same leadership. We’re not looking for regime change. I just want to make that clear,” Trump said. “We’re looking for no nuclear weapons.”

The underlying defense policy legislation, which would authorize $741.5 billion in spending under the Armed Services panel’s jurisdiction, won broad, bipartisan support as it was reported out of committee on a 25-2 vote.

The bill would give Trump the ability to move forward with his much-touted proposal to create a Space Force. It also would seek to address substandard military housing.

If the fiscal 2020 measure, an annual priority, gets floor time this summer, it could be an opportunity for senators to offer amendments on any policy topic, particularly matters of war and peace. Such chances have been exceedingly rare this Congress with the Senate Republican Conference’s near total focus on the confirmation of Trump’s nominations.

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Andrew Clevenger contributed to this report.

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