May 22, 2019

Udall Delivers Remarks on Defending Congressional War Powers and Ending Forever Wars at VoteVets Event

Amid escalating tensions with Iran, Udall calls on Congress to stand up and assert its constitutional authority to halt the march to war

Following his remarks, Udall forces a vote on a proposal to ensure Congressional authorization prior to war with Iran

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered remarks on defending Congressional war powers and ending forever wars at a bipartisan event hosted by VoteVets and Concerned Veterans for America. In his remarks, Udall emphasized that under the Constitution, only Congress has the power to declare war – a responsibility it has ceded to the executive branch for too long. Udall called on Congress to stand up and assert its constitutional authority to block the administration’s reckless march to war with Iran. A photo is available HERE.

Earlier this year, Udall reintroduced bipartisan legislation to prevent an unconstitutional war with Iran. The Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act of 2019 restores to Congress the sole power to declare war by prohibiting any funding for an unauthorized attack on Iran, thereby blocking the president from provoking an unnecessary military conflict in the Middle East. 

Following his remarks, Udall attended a Senate Foreign Relations Committee markup where he and Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) called for a vote on an amendment they filed to H.R. 31, based on Udall’s bill, to prohibit funding for any unauthorized military action in Iran.

“[I]t is the American people’s 535 representatives in Congress who have the power under the U.S. Constitution to enter into war. Not one person. Not even the president,” said Udall. “The framers of the Constitution were crystal clear -- in Article I, Section 8:  Congress, and Congress alone, has the power to ‘declare war.’ But, over recent years, Republican and Democratic presidents alike have overstepped their constitutional ground to wage war. Administrations from both parties have stretched the meaning of Congress’s authorizations to use military force to the breaking point.  And Congress has allowed it to happen. This encroachment needs to end.” 

“Congress has surrendered its authority because the decision to wage war and to escalate war are tough, political decisions. But the voters elected us to make the tough decision and we need to do our job -- our constitutional duty,” Udall continued.

Udall has also introduced a bipartisan bill, the American Forces Going Home After Noble (AFGHAN) Service Act, to end America’s long war — the war in Afghanistan —and bring our troops home, while honoring servicemembers who answered the called to duty by providing bonuses to all those who served in the Global War on Terrorism.  “Our nation’s forever wars have cost us too much.  And we need to bring them to a close -- beginning with Afghanistan,” Udall said. 

Udall concluded, “Congress must re-assert its authority and make the decisions whether or not to engage in armed conflict. I’ve put forth legislation on Iran, on Afghanistan. These critical decisions demand debate on the Senate floor.  We cannot continue to stick our heads in the sand. Too much is at stake. Please join me in urging Congress to affirm its constitutional prerogative. To debate the critical issues of war and peace. To make the tough decisions. And take the tough votes.  We owe it to every single man and woman who puts on the American uniform to assume our constitutional duty.”

The full text of Udall’s remarks as prepared for delivery is below.

Thank you, VoteVets and Concerned Veterans for America for organizing today’s important discussion.  Your organizations have worked to find common ground -- rooted in the Constitution’s language and entrusting war powers with the Congress.    

If we’re going to end these endless wars – it’s going to take collaboration like yours.

The veterans and service men and women here today know better than anyone the true cost of war.  You and your compatriots made the sacrifice.  And I thank you for your service.

At the outset, let’s be clear about two things: 

First, the majority of American people, our troops, and their families have no appetite for forever wars in the Middle East or anywhere else.  They have no appetite for forever wars that do not serve our national interest. That have no clear mission or exit strategy. That cost precious American lives.  And cost billions of taxpayer dollars.

Second, it is the American people’s 535 representatives in Congress who have the power under the U.S. Constitution to enter into war.

Not one person. Not even the president. 

The framers of the Constitution were crystal clear -- in Article I, Section 8:  Congress, and Congress alone, has the power to “declare war.”

But, over recent years, Republican and Democratic presidents alike have overstepped their constitutional ground to wage war.

Administrations from both parties have stretched the meaning of Congress’s authorizations to use military force to the breaking point.  And Congress has allowed it to happen. 

This encroachment needs to end.

Congress has surrendered its authority because the decision to wage war and to escalate war are tough, political decisions. But the voters elected us to make the tough decisions and we need to do our job -- our constitutional duty.

This president has had Americans on the edge of their seats and Twitter feeds wondering whether he will rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea.  Whether he will use military force to force out Maduro in Venezuela.  Whether he will spiral into an unconstitutional war against Iran. 

I believe the American people want no part of these new military ventures.  But even if you disagree -- these decisions are Congress’s to make, not the president’s.

Every day now we are reading about potential war with Iran. 

While Iran is a bad actor in many ways, the administration’s policies and rhetoric have needlessly increased tensions.

Let’s be clear: there was no threat of war until the president made conflict more likely.  And now we are in danger of the situation getting out of control.  This is a conflict of the president’s own making:

By unilaterally pulling out of the Iran agreement -- an agreement Iran was abiding by according to the president’s own military experts.  

By re-imposing sanctions and using sanctions authority to compel both our allies and Iran to make changes that were never part of the agreement. 

By labeling part of Iran’s military a “terrorist group” in a way that brought little benefit but I believe increases risks to our own forces. 

By misusing intelligence, and not sharing the limited intelligence with Congress, to increase the temperature in an already fraught region.

Now we know that John Bolton was one of the chief architects of the Iraq war. And he has wanted regime change and war with Iran for years.  Advisor Bolton and Secretary Pompeo’s “maximum pressure” campaign looks like a cover to goad Iran into conflict.  

One day, the president doesn’t want to go to war with Iran and he wants to talk.  The next he threatens to annihilate the entire country.  I think this Twitter foreign policy is erratic, reckless, and dangerous.

But whether the president wants to wage war against Iran is not the question. 

The real question is whether the president comes to Congress to seek a declaration of war against Iran. 

That’s why I introduced the Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act in April, along with Senators Paul and Durbin, and a number of other senators. 

This bipartisan legislation prohibits any funding for an unauthorized attack on Iran.

And, by the way, I do not believe the 2001 authorization for use of military force does not authorize force against Iran.  No matter how much this administration stretches to connect Al Qaeda and Iran.

Congress must assert its constitutional authority to prevent a needless conflict with Iran.  

And we need groups like yours to continue to speak up about this threat. 

Our nation’s forever wars have cost us too much.  And we need to bring them to a close -- beginning with Afghanistan.

We’ve been in Afghanistan over 17 years.  This is longest war in U.S. history.  We’ve lost over 2,300 men and women.  20,000 troops have been wounded in action.  It’s cost us $2 trillion dollars. 

The original mission for involvement in Afghanistan has been achieved.  It’s high time we bring our troops home.  

That’s why, in March, along with Senator Paul, I introduced the American Forces Going Home After Noble Service Act – or AFGHAN Service Act. 

This act declares victory in Afghanistan, acknowledging that we have largely achieved our objectives, sets guidelines for the safe and orderly withdrawal of troops, and repeals the 2001 AUMF.

Congress must re-assert its authority and make the decisions whether or not to engage in armed conflict. I’ve put forth legislation on Iran, on Afghanistan. 

These critical decisions demand debate on the Senate floor.  We cannot continue to stick our heads in the sand. Too much is at stake.  

Please join me in urging Congress to affirm its constitutional prerogative. To debate the critical issues of war and peace. To make the tough decisions. And take the tough votes.  We owe it to every single man and woman who puts on the American uniform to assume our constitutional duty. 

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