Senators: Don’t Cede Power to Trump in the Iran War Powers Debate

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The Senate is expected to vote this week, likely Thursday, on an Iran War Powers Resolution led by Senator Tim Kaine, opposing Trump’s threats to pursue hostilities with Iran that Congress has never authorized, in violation of the Constitution. The Kaine Iran War Powers resolution is expected to pass -- that’s great news and shows how much progress we’ve made in reasserting Congress’s sole power to authorize conflict abroad!

The Kaine Iran War Powers Resolution is a “joint resolution,” which means that Trump can veto it, as he is likely to do. Last year, Trump vetoed the similar Sanders-Lee-Murphy Yemen War Powers Resolution to prohibit continued unconstitutional U.S. participation in the genocidal Saudi war in Yemen. The Senate failed to muster 2/3 to override the veto, and Congress has done nothing since to try to end the unconstitutional Yemen war.

But there’s another path given to Congress in the War Powers Resolution of 1973 besides the one Kaine is using to end an unconstitutional war, which isn’t subject to presidential veto: the passage of a “concurrent resolution.” 

This is the path that Just Foreign Policy successfully urged House leadership to use recently when it passed the Slotkin Iran War Powers Resolution. As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Eliot Engel noted during the House debate on the Slotkin Iran War Powers Resolution, under Section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which is the law of the land, a concurrent war powers resolution is binding: it cannot be vetoed by the president.

This distinction makes a big difference in our ability to end war:  if we’re only allowed to use joint resolutions to try to end unconstitutional wars, then we need a 2/3 majority of both chambers to override a presidential veto. The framers of our Constitution did not intend to require a supermajority to end war -- and we’re nowhere near to getting 2/3 of the Senate to vote against Trump on unconstitutional war right now. 

If Senate Democrats were to concede this point, then they would effectively concede that Congress can’t force the end of any wars as long as Trump is President, and moreover that any future President can freely conduct unconstitutional wars so long as we can’t muster 2/3 of both houses to override the President’s veto.  This would enshrine endless war and is the OPPOSITE of what the framers of our Constitution intended when they assigned war powers to Congress.

This is urgent because our next step on Yemen will be to ask Members of the House to introduce a concurrent Yemen War Powers Resolution soon to force a House floor vote on ending unconstitutional U.S. participation in the genocidal Saudi war in Yemen. When the House votes on this bill, we need the House Democratic leadership to assert strongly that Congressional passage of the Yemen War Powers Resolution will be binding, just as they did when they passed the Slotkin Iran War Powers Resolution. 

That’s why Senators should not concede any ground on this point during the coming Iran War Powers debate.  In particular, Senate Democrats who voted just last week to remove Trump from office should not concede any ground to the idea that Trump can continue an unconstitutional war until we can muster 2/3 of both Houses of Congress to vote against it. 

Sign our petition: Urge Senators not to undercut House Democratic Leadership by making any statements in the coming Iran War Powers debate asserting we need 2/3 of both Houses of Congress to end an unconstitutional war.