Dem senator says he has 51 votes to restrain Trump on Iran

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, center, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, heads to a briefing by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and other national security officials on the details of the threat that prompted the U.S. to kill Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Tim Kaine D-Va., speaks during a news conference outside of the Senate chamber, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

WASHINGTON — A Democratic senator said Tuesday he has at least 51 votes to support a bipartisan resolution asserting that President Donald Trump must seek approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran.

Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said the Senate could vote as soon as next week on the measure, which is co-sponsored by two Republican senators and has support from at least two more Republicans.

Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky have co-sponsored the measure, and GOP Sens. Todd Young of Indiana and Susan Collins of Maine said Tuesday they will support it.

"We now have a majority of colleagues, Democratic and Republican, who will stand strong for the principle that we should not be at war without a vote of Congress, and that's a very positive thing,'' Kaine told reporters Tuesday.

The bipartisan resolution “clearly states that America can always defend itself,'' against attack from Iran or any other country, Kaine said, "but we don't think that this president — or any president — should send our troops into war without a vote of Congress.''

Kaine has long pushed for congressional action reasserting congressional power to declare war, but he said Tuesday he has received renewed support after the Trump administration killed Iran's top general earlier this month. Tehran responded to the U.S. attack by launching missiles at two military bases in Iraq that house American troops. No serious casualties were reported.

Democrats and Republicans alike criticized a briefing last week by the Trump administration on the Jan. 3 drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Republicans “were discouraged at the attitude that was being communicated to us that Congress is an annoyance” to the executive branch, Kaine said. The briefing by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other officials gave lawmakers the impression that they “should be glad” to get "a few morsels of information'' five days after the attack, he said.

Kaine said he has removed, at Republicans' request, language that targeted Trump. Instead the measure is a more general statement declaring that Congress has the sole power to declare war and directing the president to terminate use of military force against Iran or any part of its government without approval from Congress.

Young said in a statement Tuesday that he opposed “a politically charged version” of Kaine’s war powers resolution, but supports revised language reasserting Congress's constitutional role in debating military action.

"Our service members are willing to put politics aside for our national security, we need to do the same,” Young said.

Kaine's proposal “does not alter the president’s inherent authority as commander in chief to defend our nation and U.S. forces abroad,” Collins said, adding that it would allow the president to respond to emergencies created by aggression from any hostile nation, including Iran.

The resolution "simply makes clear that only the legislative branch may declare war or commit our armed forces to a sustained military conflict with Iran,” said Collins, one of the most vulnerable Republicans seeking reelection this year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and many other Republicans oppose the resolution, saying it would send the wrong message to U.S. allies.

The Democratic-controlled House passed a separate war powers resolution last week. The House measure is not binding on the president and does not require his signature. If the Senate approves the Kaine measure, the House could take up the Senate resolution and send it to Trump.

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