June 27, 2019

VIDEO: Ahead of Tomorrow’s Vote on Udall Iran Amendment, Udall Calls on Colleagues to Uphold The Constitution and Prevent Unauthorized War

Udall: “We have few greater responsibilities under the Constitution than to make the decision whether or not to declare war.”

Major senate vote comes amid escalating tensions with Iran and President Trump asserting he can bypass Congress with military action

VIDEOhttps://www.facebook.com/senatortomudall/videos/2376767109235188/

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) took to the Senate floor to call on Congress to step up and halt the administration’s reckless march to an unconstitutional war. Ahead of the Senate vote on the bipartisan Udall amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which would block funds from being used for war with Iran without explicit authorization from Congress, Udall, joined by Senators Tim Kaine (D-Va.)and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) – all members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – urged the Senate to reassert its constitutional authority. 

Udall’s remarks come following weeks of escalating tensions between Iran and the Trump administration, and after the president falsely declared this week that he does not need congressional authorization for launching hostilities against Iran.

“Whether you are in favor of giving the president that authorization, or whether, like me, you are opposed, everyone in this chamber should vote in favor of our bipartisan amendment. Because a vote in favor is a vote to fulfill our sworn oath – to uphold the Constitution,” Udall said. “These matters of war and peace are among the most consequential responsibilities that fall to Congress. These are the hard votes, and we must step up to take them.”

During his speech, Udall noted that the Trump administration set the U.S. on a dangerous path toward yet another endless war when it unilaterally withdrew from the Iran Nuclear Agreement. “Since this administration turned away from diplomacy and resorted to the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign to box in Iran, the risk of war has steadily risen. Just last week, we were 10 minutes away from a strike on Iran.  Ten minutes from a nightmare of escalation in the Gulf,” said Udall. 

Udall cautioned his Senate colleagues not to abdicate their responsibilities on the matter of war. “We must be accountable to the American people and to our men and women in uniform whose lives would be on the line. They are brave enough to face the danger of war. If my friends in this chamber believe they should, we should be brave enough to be held accountable for that decision,” continued Udall.

In his remarks, Udall addressed the claims that this amendment would prohibit the president from defending the U.S. against attack. “That is wrong. It’s completely false.  This amendment, and the War Powers Act incorporated as part of it, allow the U.S. to act in self-defense,” said Udall. “The amendment clearly states that it shall not be interpreted, and I quote, ‘to restrict the use of the United States Armed Forces to defend against an attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its Armed Forces.”’ 

“It is explicit. The U.S. may defend itself against attack by Iran. The claim that the military’s hands would be tied in the event of an emergency has no basis. And cannot be used as an excuse to vote against the amendment,” Udall said. 

“We must assert our constitutional authority.  We must tell the president and affirm to the American people that we will assume our constitutional responsibility.  And we must do so now – before – through miscalculation, mistake, or misjudgment – our nation finds itself in yet another endless war,” Udall concluded. 

Udall has long championed efforts in the Senate to prevent presidents from going to war without congressional authorization, including introducing bipartisan legislation to prevent an unconstitutional war with Iran during this Congress and the last.

The full text of Udall’s remarks as prepared for delivery can be read below. 

Madam President.  I rise to call upon this body to do its duty.  To assume its constitutional responsibility.  And to make it clear that the president cannot wage war against Iran without congressional authorization.

Whether you are in favor of giving the president that authorization. Or whether, like me, you are opposed. Everyone in this chamber should vote in favor of our bipartisan amendment. Because a vote in favor is a vote to fulfill our sworn oath – to uphold the Constitution. 

I appreciate that, at long last, the Senate will finally have this debate. That we will finally take this vote. Because these matters of war and peace are among the most consequential responsibilities that fall to Congress. These are the hard votes, and we must step up to take them. 

I am proud to partner with Senators Kaine, Paul, Merkley, Durbin, Murphy, and Lee in this effort. And to call upon Congress to meet its constitutional responsibilities.

After years of abdicating our responsibilities on matters of war, this entire body must stand up. And show that we will not roll over for an unauthorized, unconstitutional war.  We must pass this amendment.

This dangerous course with Iran began last May, when the president unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement. This hard-fought diplomatic achievement denied Iran the nuclear material required to even begin work on a weapon. 

Since this administration turned away from diplomacy and resorted to the “maximum pressure” campaign to box in Iran, the risk of war has steadily risen.

Just last week, we were 10 minutes away from a strike on Iran.  Ten minutes from a nightmare of escalation in the Gulf.

This week, the President threatened Iran with “great and overwhelming force” and “obliteration.” 

That is not diplomacy. That is a drumbeat toward war without Congressional approval. 

Madam President.  Tensions are the highest they have been in many years.  And the risk of a costly miscalculation grows by the day.

Just days ago, the president falsely claimed that he does not need congressional approval to launch strikes against Iran. 

But article I, section 8 of the Constitution could not be clearer:  it is Congress – and Congress alone – that has the authority to “declare war.” 

This is not a close call.  The founders placed this responsibility squarely on our shoulders.

The consequences of going to war are profound.  So, this decision rests with the people’s representatives.  Not with one person.  Not even the president.  

It’s time that Congress realize the administration’s rejection of diplomacy and its economic siege and positioning of forces only amp up the pressure so conflict becomes inevitable.   

Our amendment prohibits funding for military action against Iran without Congressional authorization.  It does not prohibit war altogether. It prohibits an unconstitutional war.  A war that has not been authorized by Congress. 

We must be accountable to the American people and to our men and women in uniform whose lives would be on the line. 

They are brave enough to face the danger of war. If my friends in this chamber believe they should, we should be brave enough to be held accountable for that decision.  

Some have claimed that this amendment would prohibit the president from defending the U.S. against attack. 

That is completely false.  This amendment, and the War Powers Act incorporated as part of it, allow the U.S. to act in self-defense. 

The amendment clearly states that it shall not be interpreted, and I quote: “to restrict the use of the United States Armed Forces to defend against an attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its Armed Forces.”

It is explicit. The U.S. may defend itself against attack by Iran.  

The claim that the military’s hands would be tied in the event of an emergency has no basis. And cannot be used as an excuse to vote against the amendment.

I am heartened that Senator McConnell and Republican leadership will finally allow debate and a vote on this amendment.  This is what the American people want and deserve.
 

Over the years, Democratic and Republican administrations alike have steadily encroached upon Congress’s war powers.  And Congress has tacitly allowed the encroachment.  

I stood up to President Obama when he threatened to attack Syria without authorization — and so did many of my colleagues.  And I am standing up again now.  Because the administration’s reckless actions have brought us to the precipice of war.   

Mr. Bolton and Secretary Pompeo’s failed strategy has led directly to these heightened tensions, to the brink of war. With no benefits to show for their tactics.

The administration has re-imposed and tightened sanctions on Iran three times now.  Sanctions we agreed not to impose if Iran agreed not to develop nuclear capabilities.

Secretary Pompeo placed a dozen conditions on negotiations. And then withdrew them. 

Just this week, at the same time that Advisor Bolton claims we will talk with Iran anytime, the president sanctions the lead diplomat in Iran and tweets out his threat of “obliteration.”  Shutting the door on any diplomatic overtures. 

This ping-pong diplomacy, manufactured crisis, and go-it-alone posture further diminish our world standing and credibility. 

None of the signatories to the Iran nuclear agreement, including our closest allies, backs us. 

This reckless diplomacy is dangerously reminiscent of the run up to the war with Iraq. 

But any war with Iran – with its military capability, proxy forces, and a population of 80 million living in a geographically perilous region – would be more disastrous than Iraq. 

And yet, we continue to march up to the brink. According to the president’s tweet, last week, he stopped a strike against Iran that he had already ordered because he learned at the last minute that 150 lives were at stake.  I know I am not alone in being deeply alarmed at this decision making process. I know members on both sides of the aisle share my concerns.

How could a strike have been ordered in the first place without the president having full knowledge of all consequences? There is not even the pretense that this administration is considering the impacts of its decision. The President himself declared that he does not need an exit strategy.

Meanwhile, from the Pentagon, we are hearing whispers that these actions against Iran are but a gift to competitors China and Russia. Distracting from our National Defense Strategy, and potentially risking our ability to modernize our armed forces and shore up our domestic infrastructure if we are brought into a long term conflict in Iran.

This is frightening. And only underscores why Congress should be making the decision to go to war, and not this president. 

But at the end of the day, this isn’t about any one president. Whatever you think about this president, this is about Congress assuming its constitutional responsibilities. No matter who is in the Oval Office. It is Congress that is charged with marking this decision. Not the president.

Congress needs to step up to the plate and take the hard vote making it clear to the president he may not bring us to war on his own.

We have few greater responsibilities under the Constitution than to make the decision whether or not to “declare war.”  

The threat of war with Iran has been ever-present for months. The threat increases with each passing day. 

Last week, we were 10 minutes away from an act of war.  Today, we have no time to waste.  

We must assert our constitutional authority.  We must tell the president -- and affirm to the American people -- that we will assume our constitutional responsibility.  

And we must do so now – before -- through miscalculation, mistake, or misjudgment -- our nation finds itself in yet another endless war.

Madam President, I yield the floor.

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