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A Bipartisan Senate Majority Just Voted to Check and Balance Trump on War

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The majority of US senators who voted Friday on an amendment to check and balance Donald Trump’s reckless approach to foreign affairs chose to send a clear and unequivocal signal about the desire of the Congress to restrict this erratic president’s ability to go to war with Iran. Unfortunately, an obstructionist block of Republican senators prevented the chamber from formally asserting its authority. These Republicans did so by casting votes that placed their loyalty to a president of their own party above the most basic premises of the US Constitution.

It is significant, arguably historic, that 50 senators voted Friday to amend the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to prohibit federal funds from being used for military operations against Iran without explicit congressional authorization. (Additionally, a senator who missed the vote, Democrat Chris Coons of Delaware, had indicated that he would have supported the amendment.) Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, was right to announce that, “A bipartisan majority of the Senate today sent an important message to President Trump: you do not have a blank check to pursue another endless war in the Middle East.”

The problem is that 40 senators opposed the measure, and ten more failed to vote on Friday. That meant that the proposal did not receive the 60 votes that were needed to amend the NDAA. This was a win for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who griped that the amendment was an attempt to micromanage presidential decisions about war and peace. But McConnell and Trump apologists like Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, know better. The Constitution explicitly says that: “The Congress shall have Power… to declare War.”

Senator Tom Udall, the New Mexico Democrat who sponsored the amendment, made that point during the floor debate. “The president claims that he does not need Congressional approval to launch strikes against Iran—but he is flat out wrong,” explained Udall, a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Article I, section 8 of the Constitution could not be clearer: it is Congress—and Congress alone—that has the authority to ‘declare war.’”

Senators who take seriously their oaths to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” sided with Udall. “The Constitution is very clear that Congress has the authority to declare war and I am voting for this bipartisan amendment to prevent President Trump from starting an unauthorized war with Iran,” explained Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin, who as a member of the House voted against authorizing the Bush-Cheney administration to attack Iraq. “I am always guided by the hard lessons that should be learned when America chooses to go to war in the Middle East. After 18 years of US military engagement in Middle East conflicts, Congress must not allow this administration to repeat the mistakes of the past. We have a constitutional responsibility to prevent the President from going to war and sending our American troops into harm’s way without congressional authorization.”

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