WASHINGTON - The Senate is poised to formally counter President Donald Trump's ability to initiate further military action against Iran, as four Republicans now say they will vote with Democrats to pass a resolution invoking Congress' war powers.
"Congress cannot be sidelined on these important decisions," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who on Tuesday declared her support for the measure. She joins Sens. Todd Young, R-Ind., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., and all 47 Democrats. A vote could come as soon as next week.
The Republicans' decision to back the resolution, put forward by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., follows a contentious decision by the president to kill a top Iranian military commander in Baghdad earlier this month. The administration has defended the operation as vital, even in the face of bipartisan frustration on Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers have chastised Trump and his senior advisers for taking such provocative action without consulting them first - and for refusing to say when they might seek Congress' authorization before conducting similar strikes in the future.
While rare for congressional Republicans to support Democrats who seek to impose checks on this president, it has become more common among a small band of GOP senators on matters where national security and the constitutional division of powers intersect.
This past summer, for instance, four Senate Republicans - Collins, Lee, Paul and Jerry Moran of Kansas - joined Democrats in a vote to demand that the administration seek congressional approval before launching any strikes on Iran. Earlier, seven Republicans joined Democrats to vote on a war powers resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen, though the president later vetoed that measure.
Kaine filed a draft of his resolution the day after the Iranian commander, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, was killed in a U.S. drone strike, and he has been working with Republicans to amend the measure so they would support it. As a result, the updated, bipartisan version removes all references to Trump and his administration's statements and policies regarding Iran.
Kaine said Tuesday that he is continuing to work with other Republican senators, with hopes of attaining additional backing. Scheduling a vote, though, could prove challenging since next week will be dominated by the start of Trump's impeachment trial.
"We will work out the timing. We have to figure out how it intersects with impeachment, but we believe this resolution is the right way to go," Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters Tuesday, indicating he was working with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on the matter.
The resolution is "privileged," meaning Republicans opposed to the measure cannot block it from coming to a vote once it is "ripe." It also means that supporters must secure only a simple majority of the Senate, 51 votes, for it to pass.
But it is almost certain that Trump will veto the measure and that Congress will not have the votes to override a veto.
The president's supporters have strongly opposed the Senate's effort and a similar measure that passed the House last week, on a vote of 224 to 194 with three Republicans backing it. The House resolution is not binding, however - meaning that the chamber may take up the Senate's measure to send it to the president's desk.
Trump's deputies and supporters said that such resolutions send a negative message to the troops and seemingly project support for the Iranian regime despite its sponsorship of terrorist activities that have led to the deaths of U.S. service members. They have also said Trump was completely within his rights to order the strike, citing the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq and the president's constitutional right to protect military personnel in harm's way.
Supporters of the war powers measures have taken pains to say they believe Soleimani was reprehensible as they argue that Trump cannot trample on Congress' right to declare war. In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has also promised to take up a measure to repeal the 2002 authorization.
Kaine's amended, bipartisan resolution states plainly that "Congress has not yet declared war upon, nor enacted a specific statutory authorization for use of military force against the Islamic Republic of Iran" and asserts that "the United States Armed Forces have been introduced into hostilities, as defined by the War Powers Resolution, against Iran."
But it recognizes an exception in cases where the United States is "defending itself from imminent attack."
Supporters of the war powers resolution say the administration has not presented evidence showing Soleimani posed an imminent threat to U.S. troops. Senior officials have said the strike was both to prevent an imminent threat and to respond to a previous attack by an Iranian-backed group that killed an American contractor in Iraq.
This article was written by Karoun Demirjian, a reporter for The Washington Post.