The Democratic-controlled House appears prepared to take new steps in that direction. But those efforts may run headlong into the GOP-led Senate.
Which creates a very unappetizing scenario that could unfold during the coming weeks.
As it is, House Democrats are planning to vote Thursday on a measure that would compel Trump to end hostilities against Iran within 30 days of enactment if he hasn’t secured congressional authorization. And now, the latest tensions are prompting Democrats to consider additional, tougher measures, as well.
One is a bill, introduced by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), which would prohibit funding — often seen as an effective constraining mechanism — for any hostilities against Iran without congressional authorization. The second is a resolution that would repeal the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF.
The administration has claimed that AUMF as its justification for the assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimiani, which is absurd, since that only authorizations actions against threats posed by Iraq, whereas Soleimani was merely killed in Iraq. President Barack Obama similarly abused the war power while he was in office.
So House Democrats need to act, including on those additional measures.
Of course, even if House Democrats do pass one or more such resolutions, they may not get very far in the Senate. Last spring, a resolution requiring congressional authorization for hostilities against Iran failed in the Senate, with all but four Republicans voting against it.
With Trump banging away at his Twitter war drums — and in the wake of Tuesday’s Iranian missile attack — Senate Republicans will probably be even less likely to act to constrain the president’s war-making authority.
Of course, House Democrats should push ahead anyway. This would at least challenge the Senate to refuse to assert its own authority at a time when Trump is threatening war crimes, boasting about the size of his weapons, and ordering assassinations — without a clear rationale and without consulting Congress — in an increasingly unhinged, erratic manner.
All of which leads to an unpleasant scenario.
Right now, Senate Republicans are moving to vote on a format for Trump’s impeachment trial that will exclude witnesses until later in the process, and they may well succeed at excluding them altogether.
This means Republicans are working to prevent, at all costs, a full reckoning into a scandal that concerns Trump’s concerted efforts — through extorting Ukraine — to place our foreign policy at the disposal of his reelection needs.
Given that Trump is utterly unrepentant about having done that, and given all the other ways he’s subverted our national interests to his own, it is reasonable to ask whether Trump’s Iran policy is grounded in any reasonable conception of what’s good for the country. This is particularly so, since all the rationales for the assassination of Soleimani have fallen apart, and there’s no discernible vision behind the president’s threats of more to come.
This is a pretty good reason to have a long and searching congressional debate — and then a vote — over any future hostilities Trump wants to undertake. It would theoretically impose more transparency on the administration’s deliberations and rationales and more accountability for the results.
Yet, right now, Republican senators are trying to assist Trump with his coverup on the former, and they may help kill any efforts to constrain him on the latter. Spot the through-line there?
“The President is awaiting trial having been impeached for putting his own personal interests ahead of our nation’s,” Stephen Miles, the executive director of Win Without War and a longtime advocate for returning the war power to Congress, told me.
“Now, as we sit on the verge of a war resulting from his actions, the Senate not only doesn’t want to get to the truth about Ukraine,” Miles continued, “it’s also failing already to ask the most basic questions about how we got here on Iran.”
That seems less than ideal, doesn’t it?