Returning to Capitol Hill after a meeting at the White House about the shooting down of an American drone, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer increased the pressure for a floor vote to make clear that authorization would be needed for military action against Iran.
The New York Democrat highlighted an amendment that has been filed to the fiscal 2020 defense policy bill led by Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Tim Kaine, D-Va. The Senate is expected to proceed to the Pentagon legislation Monday evening.
“We told the room that the Democratic position is that congressional approval must be required before funding any conflict in Iran,” Schumer said. “One of the best ways to avoid bumbling into war, a war that nobody wants, is to have a robust, open debate, and for Congress to have a real say.”
Schumer said the lesson should be learned from the broad authorization granted for military action against Iraq during the George W. Bush presidency.
“We have an amendment, supported by every Democrat, to the NDAA in the Senate. It’s led by Sen. Udall. It would require congressional approval of any funding for a conflict in Iran. It’s supported by all of us,” Schumer said. “We are asking Leader McConnell to do the right thing and give us a vote next week on the NDAA on that amendment.”
Emerging from a House Democratic caucus meeting on Iran, Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, also a New York Democrat, relayed that the message from House and Senate Democrats to President Donald Trump was the same.
“The president didn’t signal what he’s contemplating entirely at the White House meeting but we made it clear that we don’t believe the president has the authority to engage in any retaliatory or affirmative military action in absence a renewed authorization for use of military force,” Jeffries said.
There was no doubt, however, that Iran was behind the strike against the American unmanned aircraft.
“In light of the targeting of an unmanned U.S. drone by Iran, it is essential that we remain fully engaged with our allies, recognize that we are not dealing with a responsible adversary and do everything in our power to de-escalate,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement after the meeting. “This is a dangerous, high-tension situation that requires a strong, smart and strategic, not reckless, approach.”
Trump said it was possible the Iranian action was an accident, according to Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Jack Reed.
“President Trump suggested that Iran’s use of force to take down this surveillance drone in international air space may have been unintentional, said Reed, the ranking member on Armed Services. “At a minimum, it illustrates the risk of miscalculation in what has become a highly pressurized situation.”
Separately, supporters of the amendment discussed by Schumer also took to the Senate floor to make their case Thursday afternoon.
“If some colleagues here on the floor think we should be in a war with Iran, as some have publicly urged, let them come to the floor of the United States Senate in full view of the American people and make that argument,” Kaine said. “And I’ll make my argument about why a new war in the Middle East would be catastrophic and see who wants to stand up and make the argument that a new war in the Middle East is something that this great nation should do.
“And if we then have that argument, and cast a vote, and I lose, I’m going to be disappointed — but we will have done what the Constitution suggests that we must do,” Kaine said.
Schumer and the Senate Democratic caucus does have some leverage to try to force the vote on the Udall-led amendment next week, if they decide to use it. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will need some Democratic support to overcome procedural hurdles and be able to bring the defense authorization through to passage.
The House went on record earlier this week on a related use of force authorization question, passing language as part of a larger spending package to sunset the 2001 AUMF that came in response to the Sept. 11 attacks and was the basis for U.S. military action against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Democrats in particular have been concerned that the Trump administration could try to use it as the legal basis for new action against Iran.
Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.