June 11, 2019

VIDEO: Udall Delivers Keynote Address at Center for American Progress on Preventing an Unconstitutional War with Iran

As Trump admin. continues to escalate tensions in the region, Udall calls on Congress to “step up” and assert its constitutional authority to halt the march to war

Udall is author of bipartisan legislation to block unauthorized war with Iran that is gaining momentum in the Senate

VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4ln3jzZW1M 

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the keynote address at the Center for American Progress’ event, “President Trump and Iran,” about the urgent need to pass his bipartisan legislation to prevent President Trump from launching an unauthorized war with Iran. Udall spoke out against Congress ceding its constitutionally-granted power to declare war to the executive branch for too long and called on Congress to reassert its authority in order to halt the march to war. 

In his remarks, Udall warned that the Trump administration’s recent actions and rhetoric have dangerously escalated tensions – and the risk of armed conflict – between the United States and Iran.  

“We’re here today because, sixteen years after the invasion of Iraq, the United States is again inching closer to another unnecessary conflict in the Middle East. And we need to stop it – before it’s too late,” Udall began. “This president’s foreign policy on Iran is, quite simply, a disaster. Period. Full stop. And it’s pushing us to the brink of a war that the American people do not support.”

Udall also emphasized that the Trump administration’s reckless withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), along with its belligerent rhetoric and ‘maximum pressure’ strategy against Tehran, has brought us to the brink of imminent conflict, leaving the United States and the world less safe. 

“The administration has increased instability in an already-unstable part of the world. Undermined relations with close allies. And signaled to the global community that the United States cannot be counted on to stand by its obligations… This administration’s go-it-alone foreign policy with Iran is as amateurish as it is dangerous,” Udall said.

Finally, Udall discussed the urgent need for his bipartisan legislation to end the looming threat of war, which is quickly gaining momentum in the Senate, and urged Congress to actively assert its war powers authority.

“Whether our nation goes to war is one of the most consequential decisions we can ever make. That’s why the drafters of the Constitution placed the decision with the people’s representatives.  Not with one person, one president… Congress needs to step up. And all of us need to stand up and show we won’t roll over for another endless war,” Udall continued.  

“As we approach 2020, the bottom line on Congress’s war powers is that we need to exert them.  We owe it to the American people.  And, most importantly, we owe it to every single man and woman who puts on the American uniform. Let’s work together to avoid an unconstitutional, needless, and catastrophic war,” Udall concluded.

Earlier this year, Udall reintroduced his bipartisan Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act of 2019, which restores to Congress the sole power to declare war by prohibiting any funding for an attack on Iran without express approval from Congress, thereby blocking the president from provoking an unnecessary military conflict in the Middle East. In May, Udall and Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) called for a vote during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee markup on an amendment they filed to H.R. 31, based on Udall’s bill, to ensure a  Congressional vote prior to any military action in Iran

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

Thank you, Neera, for the introduction.  

The Center for American Progress is an absolute powerhouse in promoting an agenda that empowers all Americans.  Thank you, Neera, for your outstanding leadership and for your organizations’ excellent work.

We’re here today because, sixteen years after the invasion of Iraq, the United States is again inching closer to another unnecessary conflict in the Middle East.

And we need to stop it – before it’s too late. 

This president’s foreign policy on Iran is, quite simply, a disaster.  Period.  Full stop.  And it’s pushing us to the brink of a war that the American people do not support.  

You all know the history. In 2015, President Obama negotiated an international agreement to ensure that Iran would not acquire nuclear weapons.  

Long, hard-fought negotiations -- along with cooperation among the P5, Germany, and the European Union -- produced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. A landmark breakthrough.

An agreement that included strict verification requirements. An agreement that Iran is in compliance with. This is according to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the intelligence experts in the United States. 

The agreement marked a high point for diplomacy.  And it left the world a much safer place. 

That is until President Trump tore it up -- determined to undermine any success of President Obama’s -- no matter how vital to our national interest.

And now, the United States’ unilateral withdrawal – along with the Trump Administration’s saber-rattling rhetoric – have drastically escalated the threat of military confrontation.  

I don’t want to be alarmist—but I can tell you I am very worried.  The administration has increased instability in an already-unstable part of the world.  Undermined relations with close allies.  And signaled to the global community that the United States cannot be counted on to stand by its obligations. 

Without a doubt, Iran is a destabilizing force in the region, along with others. We must be strategic and effective in dealing with Iran and protecting U.S. interests.

And we must continue to protect and defend our strongest ally in Middle East, Israel, and help ensure its security. 

That is precisely what the Iran deal intended to do.

The single most dangerous threat Iran could pose to the U.S., to Israel, the Middle East, and to the world, would be if it acquired a nuclear weapon.  But the U.S. recklessly backed out of a deal that intended to eliminate that capability.

The president broke the Iran agreement claiming he could get a better deal.

Well -- a situation where tensions are so high a single miscalculation can lead to war is not a better deal.  Contingency plans to deploy 120,000 American troops to the Middle East is not a better deal.  And the prospect of another endless war in the Middle East is certainly not a better deal for the men and women in uniform whose lives would be on the line. 

The so-called “maximum pressure” strategy of the president, his National Security Advisor, and his Secretary of State has not produced a better deal.  It has brought us the very real threat of imminent conflict.  

This administration’s go-it-alone foreign policy with Iran is as amateurish as it is dangerous. 

One day the president is tweeting about the “official end” of Iran.  The next day he claims he wants to talk.  One day Secretary Pompeo is setting down a dozen conditions for negotiations with Iran.  The next he announces there are no conditions.  

At the same time, this administration is leaking questionable intelligence. Ignoring the reality that they lack legal authority for war with Iran. 

It’s frightening, but true:  we could be caught in a war based on a mistake or miscalculation. Or a manufactured crisis, reminiscent of the run up to the war in Iraq. 

John Bolton’s commitment to regime change in Iran and the president’s Twitter trigger finger are why Congress needs to step in and halt the march to war.

This decision rests squarely with Congress.  Not the executive.  Article I, section 8 of the U.S. Constitution authorizes Congress – and Congress alone  -- to declare war. 

Whether our nation goes to war is one of the most consequential decisions we can ever make.  

That’s why the drafters of the Constitution placed the decision with the people’s representatives. Not with one person, one president. 

The majority of the American people have no appetite for another forever war in the Middle East. 

All the resources we would have to commit to fighting a war with Iran should instead go to rebuilding our infrastructure and modernizing a military that has been unable to do so because of the longest wars in American history. 

In April, I introduced the Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act -- along with Senators Paul and Durbin and a number of others. 

The bill prohibits funding for an attack on Iran that Congress has not authorized. It does not prevent the president from defending the U.S. in the event of attack.  

Congress must re-assert its war powers authority and make it crystal clear that this administration cannot go it alone in an armed conflict with Iran. 

As we recognize all that was accomplished 75 years ago when 160,000 allied troops stormed Normandy, I’m reminded of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s words to General Dwight Eisenhower in late May, 1944.  He said, “There’s only one thing worse than fighting a war with allies, and that’s fighting a war without them.”  

In any fight with Iran – we have no allies. 

My Iran bill has gained momentum as the threat of war has become more real -- more members have signed on.  I’m pleased that Senators Booker, Gillibrand, Harris, Klobuchar, Sanders, Bennet, and Warren have all signed on.  Today, 23 Senators have cosponsored the legislation.

Of course, I didn’t just mention those specific senators by accident.  This needs to be a 2020 issue. The American people are fed up with forever wars. They are on our side.

If President Trump is in office for another five and a half years – how can we be confident that we will be able to hold off Bolton and Pompeo in their march to war against Iran?

We cannot.  So -- we need this legislation. 

Obviously I want to vote on it and pass it. 

But if Senator McConnell sends it to the legislative graveyard, then we need to make this a major 2020 issue. We need to defeat this march to war at the ballot box.

But quite frankly, this shouldn’t be a Democratic or Republican issue. Every single member of Congress should be able to agree on this fundamental constitutional principle.  Whether or not you think war with Iran is a good or bad idea.  

I respect Senator Paul’s consistency here.  And I am hoping for more backbone from his Republican colleagues.

We’ve got a year and a half left in this president’s term.  More than enough time for the president to be persuaded to go to war by his National Security Advisor and Secretary of State.  

More than enough time for his Attorney General to cook up an opinion that the 9/11 authorization for military force green lights an invasion into Iran. 

The president seems to wish he were running an autocracy. But we’re a democracy, with checks and balances. So it’s our duty to remain vigilant. 

And it’s not just about Iran – it’s time for Congress to step up to its constitutional war responsibilities in general.  

Both houses resolved that the U.S. should end its support for Saudi Arabia’s humanitarian slaughter in Yemen. But I’m disappointed we haven’t been able to override the presidential veto.   

And I’m disappointed that we’ve ducked debate on whether to end our endless war in Afghanistan.

Senator Paul and I have also introduced a bipartisan bill that would responsibly take us out of Afghanistan and sunset the 9/11 AUMF. 

The fact is Congress has allowed Democratic and Republican administrations alike to stretch the 9/11 and Iraq AUMF’s to the point of breaking.  

Congress needs to get out of the bunker and take the hard votes.  Our troops face live fire and sacrifice their lives. I have no sympathy for ducking a vote on war. 

I voted for the 9/11 authorization. I voted against the PATRIOT Act. I voted against the Iraq War. None of those were easy votes at the time.  But that’s the job we’re sent here to do.  

The AUMFs must be brought forward to meet today’s military and political realities.  No one who voted for the 9/11 AUMF would have imagined it would be invoked for war against the governments of Syria or Iran. 

Congress needs to step up. And all of us need to stand up and show we won’t roll over for another endless war.

The bottom line on Iran is this: we need to avert catastrophe over the next 18 months.  And then, we need a president who will bring back the Iran agreement to keep Iran verifiably free of nuclear weapons.

Then we can focus our energies on the rest of the region’s challenges — including ballistic missile development and militant groups that keep the Middle East in chaos. Not to mention securing lasting peace and security for Israel. 

As we approach 2020, the bottom line on Congress’s war powers is that we need to exert them.  We owe it to the American people.  And, most importantly, we owe it to every single man and woman who puts on the American uniform. 

Let’s work together to avoid an unconstitutional, needless, and catastrophic war.

Now, I have time for a few questions if anyone has one.

###