WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Thursday to require President Trump to seek congressional authorization before taking further military action against Iran, as Democrats joined forces with eight Republicans to try to rein in the president’s war-making powers weeks after he escalated hostilities with Tehran.
The bipartisan vote, 55-45, amounted to a rare attempt by the Senate to restrain Trump’s authority just over a week after it voted to acquit him of impeachment charges and nearly six weeks after the president moved without authorization from Congress to kill a top Iranian security commander.
But it was a mostly symbolic rebuke of the president, as support for the measure fell short of the two-thirds supermajority needed to override a promised veto by Trump. The House passed a similar measure last month on a nearly party-line vote that also fell well short of the two-thirds margin.
Still, indignant at the administration’s handling of a drone strike in Iraq last month that killed a top Iranian official — a major provocation that pushed the United States and Iran to the brink of war — an unusually large number of Senate Republicans crossed party lines in an attempt to claw back Congress’s authority to weigh in on matters of war and peace.
“We don’t send a message of weakness when we stand up for the rule of law in a world that hungers for more rule of law,” Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat from Virginia, the lead sponsor of the measure, said.
“We need a Congress that will fully inhabit the Article I powers,” Kaine added, referring to the portion of the Constitution that grants Congress the power to declare war. “That’s what our troops and their families deserve.”
Kaine drafted the resolution in early January as tensions ratcheted up with Iran after the strike in Baghdad that killed General Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s most important general. In briefings with Trump’s national security team, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, already angry that the administration had not consulted with them before the operation, complained that top officials demeaned and dismissed them in briefings for questioning the president’s strategy.
Both Republicans and Democrats who sponsored the resolution insisted that the measure was not intended to tie Trump’s hands but to reassert Congress’ constitutional prerogatives on matters of war. For decades, lawmakers in both parties have ceded those powers with little resistance, deferring to an increasingly assertive executive branch.
Still, Trump viewed the resolution as a personal affront, and Wednesday urged Republicans to reject it, framing the measure as a dangerous show of timidity and an attempt by Democrats to “embarrass the Republican Party.”
“We are doing very well with Iran, and this is not the time to show weakness,” Trump wrote on Twitter, adding: “If my hands were tied, Iran would have a field day. Sends a very bad signal.”
The legislation is sure to pass the Democratic-led House, but White House advisers warned in a formal statement of administration policy that Trump would veto it if it reached his desk. The statement described the measure as “grounded in a faulty premise” because the United States was not currently engaged in any use of force against Iran.
In the Senate, Republicans mirrored Trump’s language, arguing that the resolution would shackle the president at a potentially perilous time and be viewed by Tehran as a message of weakness.
“If this passes, the president will never abide by it — no president would,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, said. “I want the Iranians to understand, when it comes to their provocative behavior, all options are on the table.”
But a small group of moderate and libertarian-minded Republicans who were rankled by the administration’s handling of the Soleimani strike supported the measure.
Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky, who have advocated disengaging US troops from prolonged military conflicts abroad, were infuriated by a contentious congressional briefing delivered last month by Trump’s top national security advisers on the operation. They complained that administration officials had been unwilling to engage in a genuine discussion about a possible military escalation in the Middle East.