The parallel efforts come as members of both parties grow agitated at the lack of information the administration has provided Congress concerning its decision to kill Soleimani in a targeted strike last week in Baghdad, despite concerns that it could escalate tensions in the region. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark A. Milley and CIA Director Gina Haspel are expected to face senators and House members for closed-door briefings Wednesday, according to people familiar with the plans.
Yet Democrats seem unlikely to win the support of several key Republican figures who have backed previous efforts to check Trump’s power as commander in chief but now vocally defend his decision to kill Soleimani.
“I would be very shocked if any Republican votes for this resolution,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a close Trump ally who nonetheless voted last year to curtail U.S. military operations in Yemen and block the president from waging war against Iran without Congress’s express authorization.
“It’s going to be seen all as a political ploy to try to ding the president of the United States — and it’s very hard to side with Iran and a terrorist against the president of the United States,” Meadows said, adding that it was “not the appropriate time or the appropriate vehicle to send a political message.”
Both Democrats and Republicans have stressed that Soleimani — who led an Iranian paramilitary force that supported militias responsible for the deaths of more than 600 American troops since the 2003 invasion of Iraq — was a bad guy with blood on his hands. But the parties have largely split over whether killing him was a legitimate act of self-defense allowed under the president’s constitutional power and existing authorizations, or what some have labeled a reckless decision pushing the legal bounds of his authority and threatening to plunge the region into chaos.
Congress has divided along party lines over Trump’s Iran policy since he entered office on a promise to curtail the Obama-era nuclear deal with Tehran. But the latest standoff also carries echoes of Congress’s decision almost two decades ago to authorize hostilities in Iraq against the regime of Saddam Hussein — not least because the Trump administration has defended its strike against Soleimani in Baghdad by invoking Congress’s 2002 Iraq authorization.
Iraq’s parliament has passed a nonbinding resolution to oust U.S. troops from its borders, and on Monday, American officials informed Iraqis that the U.S. military would be relocating within the country “to prepare for onward movement.” The Pentagon later clarified that it has no plans to withdraw.
“The only silver lining to me would be if we would actually leave Iraq because of all this,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Monday, adding that he was still reviewing the Democrats’ war powers resolution. He noted, though, that one would have to be “brain dead” to think that killing Soleimani would improve the U.S. bargaining position with Iran.
“The death of Soleimani, I think, is the death of diplomacy,” Paul said. “I see only military escalation from here. . . . I see no way out at this point.”
Paul is one of several Republicans who have joined Democrats in recent years to call for a repeal of the 2002 authorization, as well as Congress’s 2001 authorization for the use of military force against al-Qaeda and its affiliates. The 2001 measure was written to greenlight hostilities in Afghanistan but has been used since then to justify operations against various terrorist groups.
Yet other Republicans who have endorsed the repeal efforts are drawing a sharp distinction between Trump’s decision to take out Soleimani and Congress’s responsibility to intervene to stop what some call “forever wars.”
“The president would need congressional authorization to start a war with Iran, but as the president made very clear, this was an effort to protect our troops and to stop a war, not to start one,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said on Fox News. Last year, he and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) co-sponsored a measure requiring the administration to seek congressional authorization before engaging in hostilities with Iran.
Sen. Mike Lee (Utah), another Republican who voted last year to require congressional authorization for Iran hostilities — and who led Senate efforts with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to invoke the War Powers Resolution to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen — similarly took issue with the assertion in Kaine’s measure that the Soleimani strike constitutes “either hostilities or a situation where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances into which United States Armed Forces have been introduced.”
“We do not agree with that,” Lee’s spokesman Conn Carroll wrote in an email.
Lee was one of four Republicans who sided with Democrats last year on a measure requiring the administration to seek congressional authorization for hostilities against Iran that procured 50 votes, on which only one Democratic senator did not vote. It would take 50 votes to pass Kaine’s resolution or the equivalent from the House, where the Democratic majority is expected to vote to restrict Trump’s military engagement with Iran.
Neither chamber is expected to secure the votes necessary to withstand a presidential veto.
Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.