GOP-Led Senate Expected to Pass War Powers Legislation As Trump Readies to Veto It

With Democrats predicting some of their Republican colleagues will cross the aisle, the Senate is expected to pass a War Powers resolution Thursday to curtail President Donald Trump's authority to take unilateral military action in Iran.

The move is in response to escalations with the Middle Eastern country that occurred last month, including the U.S. killing one of Iran's top military generals and the subsequent retaliation that ensued.

However, Congress is not expected to muster enough support in either chamber to survive a presidential veto. The administration issued an official veto warning Wednesday.

And the president's recent impeachment acquittal—coupled with his "emboldened" actions, as Democrats have labeled them, such as ousting impeachment witnesses and vowing political "retribution"—raises questions whether he will take the rebuke from Congress as a warning or as a toothless threat from a legislative branch constrained by a partisan divide.

"Put it on his desk. If he vetoes it, I think the fact of us getting it to him may still influence his thinking as he's thinking that he's got an election to face in November," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the resolution's author. "We know what Americans think of another war right now, and so does he."

The legislation is privileged because it invokes the War Powers Act, meaning Kaine can force a vote despite opposition from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who labeled the resolution "blunt and clumsy" on Tuesday. Votes will occur Thursday on any amendments offered and final passage of the resolution, which would require Trump seek congressional approval for military action within 30 days or cease any ongoing operations. The Democratic-led House will eventually consider the measure, where it is expected to easily pass.

"The ill-conceived potshots at presidential authorities in the wake of a strike that succeeded using the blunt instrument of a War Powers resolution is no substitute for answering these broader questions," McConnell said in a floor speech Tuesday. "I will oppose my colleague's resolution and I would encourage our colleagues to do likewise."

In tweets on Wednesday, Trump criticized the resolution as showing "weakness," writing that it's "very important for our Country's SECURITY" that the Senate vote down the legislation. He defended the decision to kill top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.

"Sends a very bad signal. The Democrats are only doing this as an attempt to embarrass the Republican Party," he continued. "Don't let it happen!"

Last month, the House passed a similar War Powers resolution, but it lacked legal authority and was viewed as mostly symbolic.

Despite the expected veto from Trump, lawmakers who do support the legislation believe it is vital to act as a constitutional check on the president's ability to take military action without the approval of Congress. Although the Senate failed in May 2019 to override Trump's veto of a War Powers resolution to cease U.S. support for the Saudi-backed war in Yemen, it was something Kaine believed the president took notice to.

Senate curb Trump Iran War Powers
Protesters hold signs at the U.S. Capitol to for the Anti-Iran War Rally on January 9 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty

"The effect of us acting to reclaim the congressional prerogative in this regard is important in and of itself," Kaine said.

Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), a member of GOP leadership, is one of at least a handful of Republicans who've already sided with Democrats.

"[Trump's] Article Two authorities haven't changed. They're enshrined in the constitution, so he'll still have those, regardless of how the vote turns out," Young said. "I'm just ensuring that Congress fulfills our Article One responsibilities. that's all this is about: affirming that we have been delegated the authority to declare war and unauthorize the use of military force in the absence of a national interest paired with a situation that is very limited in time, scope and duration."

In addition to Young, at least three other GOP senators—Susan Collins of Maine, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky, who co-sponsored the legislation—are anticipated to back the resolution. Kaine predicted that perhaps another five Republicans could join them—far short of the minimum 20 Republicans needed for a two-thirds, veto-proof majority.

Republican leadership has chalked up the GOP support as nothing out of the ordinary.

"We always have a handful of members who feel differently about this than I do," Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the Number 4 Republican said.

Lee and Young made a pitch in support of the resolution during a weekly closed-door luncheon with their Republican colleagues Tuesday, according to Kaine.

"We've been at war too long and in too many places," Paul, a longtime vocal opponent to America's foreign military intervention abroad, told Newsweek. "This is a prime time to begin talking about whether or not we still need to be in Afghanistan."

Others, such as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), remained opposed to the resolution in its current form. He suggested it would go too far in curbing Trump's ability to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power and that an amendment would need to be included to pre-authorize a certain degree of action the president could take.

"Let's talk about the full range of what we may have to do with Iran," he told Newsweek. "Are you willing to, basically, go on the record saying you will authorize the president to use military force to prevent that from happening?"

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates American public sentiment on Donald Trump's handling of Iran.

Donald Trump Iran Handling Statista
American public sentiment on Donald Trump's handling of Iran. Statista

This article was updated to include an infographic.