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Who Gives the Green Light for Military Action?

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Whether Congress would need to authorize military action against Iran has divided lawmakers largely along party lines.

Many Republicans maintain that the Trump administration would be well within its legal authority to conduct military strikes against Iran without first obtaining congressional approval. Democrats, many of whom have warned that the administration is dangerously escalating tensions with Iran, hold that Congress would need to approve any military attack.

David Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, briefed Senate Republicans during a Tuesday lunch meeting about incidents in the Middle East that the U.S. has attributed to Iran, including the most recent attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Along with the tanker attacks, the administration’s decision to deploy 1,000 new troops to the Middle East has made the possibility of a military conflict more concrete on Capitol Hill.

“If we are attacked, we have a right to defend ourselves. We don’t need an AUMF to respond to an attack,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) said of receiving new congressional approval for military action.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), who went golfing with President Trump on Sunday, said the administration is mulling military against Iran after the tanker attacks.

“Nobody’s talking about invading Iran, nobody’s talking about an Iraq war, but we are talking about a military response on the table that would cripple their ability to continue to do this,” Mr. Graham.

To Democrats, the situation in Iran is reminiscent of the build-up to the Iraq War. House Democrats will vote on a spending package today that includes a provision that repeals a 2001 authorization of military force that has been used for nearly two decades as the legal basis for military actions.

“Led by John Bolton, there are people in this administration who have hardly ever found a cause that they didn’t want to start a war over,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.).

—Kristina Peterson and Lindsay Wise contributed to this article.

Write to Andrew Duehren at

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