May 07, 2020

Udall Votes To Override President’s Veto of Bipartisan War Powers Resolution to Halt Trump’s Reckless Escalation with Iran

Veto override vote falls short of needed two-thirds majority, but Udall pledges to continue pressing for action to prevent another war in the Middle East and reclaim Congress’ war powers

WASHINGTON— Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), senior member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and author of the Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act of 2019, voted to override President Donald J. Trump’s veto of S.J.Res.68, a bipartisan War Powers Act resolution to prevent the Trump administration from escalating war with Iran. The resolution passed the Senate in a 55-45 bipartisan vote on February 13, following President Trump’s January order to launch an unprovoked military airstrike that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and risked igniting another endless war in the Middle East. The House passed the resolution in a 227-186 bipartisan vote on March 10. President Trump vetoed the resolution yesterday, but the Senate did not achieve the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto today.

“I am deeply disappointed that the president vetoed a bipartisan defense of congressional war powers yesterday—and I am disappointed that the Senate did not rise to defend those powers that the Constitution explicitly designated for Congress,” Udall said. “The American people do not want a war with Iran, and both chambers of Congress have spoken up to affirm the will of the American people in bipartisan fashion. The Senate, and both chambers of Congress, should affirm this principle to avoid another endless conflict in the Middle East—especially during a pandemic that demands the full attention of our nation and the world. We owe nothing less to the brave members of our military who stand ready to defend our country. Congress, and the president, have a solemn duty to respect the Constitution we swore an oath to uphold and so many have sacrificed to defend, and to ensure that Americans are not sent to fight a war that does not have the consent of the American people and that has not been debated and authorized by Congress.” 

Udall has long championed defending congressional war powers. Last June, Udall authored a bipartisan amendment to the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to prevent unconstitutional war with Iran. The amendment earned bipartisan support during the Senate’s debate on the NDAA. His bipartisan legislation (S. 1039) to block funding for hostilities with Iran without specific Congressional authorization, originally introduced in 2018, was re-introduced in April 2019 and has 27 cosponsors. The House has passed a Iran war funding prohibition similar to the Udall bill two times—both as an amendment to the FY2020 NDAA on July 12, 2019 and again on January 30, 2020.

Udall also submitted a statement to the Congressional Record ahead of today’s vote. The full text of Udall’s statement to the Congressional Record on the Senate vote is below: 

Mr. President, in February, a bipartisan majority of the Senate voted to affirm our constitutional authority to declare war and to prohibit the President from starting a war with Iran. In March, the House of Representatives also cast a bipartisan vote to affirm that Congress, and Congress alone, has the authority to declare war.

The president has vetoed that Iran War Powers Resolution – rebuking the will of Congress, the will of the American people, and the directive of the United States Constitution. 

It is now up to Congress to reassert our authority, to override this veto, and to make good on the words of Article 2, section 8 of the Constitution that gives Congress the sole power to “declare War.” 

Because, Mr. President, the last thing we need right now, at this time of grave crisis for our nation, is a crisis of our own making in the Middle East -- a protracted, unconstitutional conflict with Iran. 

Some would like to think that there is no chance that this president would begin a war with Iran in the middle of a global pandemic – a war that would kill Americans and Iranians alike. 

Think again.

On March 11th, a barrage of rockets hit an airbase north of Baghdad housing U.S. troops, and killing two. That day marked the birthday of Iran’s General Suleimani, who was killed in January in an unprovoked attack ordered by the President.

The attack was launched by a Shiite military group -- whose leader also had been killed during the January attack on Suleimani. However, the Pentagon did not have solid evidence that the attack had been ordered by the Iranian government.

But the president’s advisors, who have supported a maximum pressure campaign that has risked military conflict with Iran, did not wait for clear cut evidence of Iran’s involvement to try to push us closer to war. Senior advisors to the president, including Secretary of State Pompeo, strongly argued that the U.S. should launch a direct attack upon Iran in retaliation.

Pentagon and military leaders pushed back against Secretary Pompeo’s call for military action inside Iran -- warning that a large-scale response within Iran’s borders could draw us into a wider war with that country. 

Thankfully, these cooler heads prevailed. And the president ended up ordering night airstrikes against the militia’s outposts inside Iraq to limit the possible death toll.

But, not satisfied with that response, Pentagon officials have ordered the military to draw up a plan to destroy the responsible militia group inside Iran.

However, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Robert P. White, has reacted strongly to that directive – warning that any such campaign could be bloody and counterproductive and risk war with Iran. He warned any such escalation would require thousands more American troops be sent to Iraq.

So, since March, at least twice, high level Pentagon and military officials have warned that Trump administration officials’ plans risk war with Iran.

And, most recently, President Trump tweeted out an order to rewrite the rules of engagement at sea to attack harassing Iranian ships. While we condemn such harassing conduct, this is conduct the U.S. and other nations have determined is not worth a widespread war.

With the advisors that the President surrounds himself with, like Secretary Pompeo and Special Advisor Brian Hook, the chilling fact is we are never far from war with Iran.

The threat is ever-present. Even as coronavirus ravages our country and spreads within the military. And even when all resources of the federal government should be singularly focused on fighting this pandemic, keeping Americans safe, and keeping our economy going.

So, since we are still at risk of war with Iran in the middle of this public health and economic crisis – it is more imperative than ever that we override the President’s veto and pass the Iran War Powers Resolution once and for all.

At this point in time, it would exponentially worsen the current disaster if we were to bungle our way into another Middle Eastern war with Iran.

The American people don’t want war with Iran. They didn’t want it before this terrible virus hit and they certainly don’t want it now while we are in the throes of this pandemic.  

But Secretary Pompeo and his hawkish allies in the administration cannot be counted on to represent the will of the American people.

That’s why we’re here. And that’s why the framers of the Constitution vested the authority to go to war with the legislative branch and not the executive branch. They placed the authority to go to war squarely with the people’s representatives. 

At this point in time, all national resources must be directed toward the public health and economic crisis facing our nation. Now is the time to send a message to this president and those in his administration who seem to be always itching to escalate the conflict – that initiating war against Iran is not this president’s – or any president’s – choice to make.