VIDEO: Udall Speaks on the Senate Floor Urging Senate to Act to Prevent Unconstitutional War With Iran
Highlights cost to American troops and risk of endless war following last month’s military strike against Iranian general ordered by President Trump
Legislation barring war with Iran has twice passed the House and has bipartisan Senate majority support
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 Act of 2019, spoke on the Senate floor urging fellow senators to vote for a War Powers Act resolution to prevent the Trump administration from escalating war with Iran, following President Trump’s January order for a military strike that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani that brought the United States to the brink of another endless war in the Middle East. A similar resolution to stop hostilities against Iran, sponsored by Representative Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), passed the House of Representatives on January 9 by with a bipartisan vote of 224-194.
Udall called on the Senate to uphold congressional war powers and affirmed that Congress is the sole branch of government with the power to declare war under the U.S. Constitution. He also highlighted the cost to more than 100 American troops who have sustained traumatic brain injuries from Iran’s retaliatory missile attack on U.S. military bases in Iraq.
“Last month, as we were on the brink of war with Iran, the whole nation – and the whole world – watched on edge, bracing for conflict, bloodshed and terror,” Udall said. “Yet, to this day, this administration has not provided a serious justification for the strike on General Suleimani.
“The administration claimed Suleimani posed an ‘imminent threat’ to U.S. troops, diplomats, and citizens,” Udall continued. “But the administration gave no convincing evidence to the Congress or the American people that an attack from Iran on U.S. interests was ‘imminent.’ Or that the killing would have stopped such an imminent attack. Come to find out, the operation was planned months in advance and was even broader than General Suleimani. That’s not a response to an imminent threat. That’s an unauthorized — and thus unconstitutional — act of war. In the end, the President all but admitted the attack was retaliatory, not defensive – when he tweeted that any justification for the strike ‘doesn’t really matter’ ‘because of Suleimani’s horrible past.’
“And, finally, worst of all, Iran launched a missile attack against U.S. troops in Iraq – risking American lives. While I am grateful no one was killed, I am anguished that more than 100 of our soldiers suffered from traumatic brain injury from the attack. While the President said that he doesn’t consider their injuries ‘serious,’ I agree with the Veterans of Foreign Wars who asked the President to apologize for that callous remark.”
“The founders rejected the notion that the president alone should have the power to send the country into war,” Udall concluded. “They believed it unwise to vest the president, one person, with that power. And so they vested that decision with the people’s representatives to make sure that any war would have broad-based support. That decision makes as much sense today as it did 230 years ago. It is our job – as representatives of the people – to decide whether to go to war. And the American people do not want war with Iran.”
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.
The full text of Udall’s remarks is below:
Madam President, I rise to affirm Congress’s constitutional authority to declare war, and to support the War Powers Resolution before us.
The chilling events of last month bring into stark relief why this resolution is absolutely necessary. The president brought us to the very edge of war with Iran by his attack on its top general.
We must pass this resolution because – even if the President does not respect the plain words of the Constitution – the members of this body should.
Look at this chart here. Here they are. Clear as day: ‘Congress shall have Power to declare War.’
Congress alone has the power to ‘declare war.’ The President does not.
I did not come to this view recently. I held the same view under President Obama’s administration. I spoke up against his plans for airstrikes in Syria – and I voted against an authorization for those strikes in the Foreign Relations Committee.
So whether you support war with Iran or not – I urge every single member here to stand up for our Constitution and vote for this resolution.
Last month, as we were on the brink of war with Iran, the whole nation – and the whole world – watched on edge, bracing for conflict, bloodshed, terror.
Yet – to this day – this administration has not provided a serious justification for the strike on General Suleimani.
The administration claimed the 2002 authorization for use of military force against Iraq justified the strike, but the AUMF, which I voted against, authorizes force, and I quote here, ‘against the continuing threat posed by Iraq, not any threat posed by Iran. And that authorization was passed in 2002, and here we are 18 years later and it's been used – being specifically used to get us into another conflict.
The administration claimed Suleimani posed an ‘imminent threat' to U.S. troops, diplomats, and citizens.
But the administration gave no convincing evidence to the Congress or the American people that an attack from Iran on U.S. interests was ‘imminent.’ Or that the killing would have stopped such an imminent attack.
During the Senate briefing when we asked questions – trying to get real answers about the evidence, and why they didn’t seek congressional approval – the administration wouldn’t answer.
One Republican senator called it the ‘worst’ briefing he’s ever had. He said it was ‘insulting and demeaning.’
While the president claimed on Twitter, without evidence, that Iran had targeted four U.S. embassies his own Secretary of Defense disavowed that claim.
This president has misled the public on many things, big and small.
It’s clear that he will mislead us on the most consequential matters we face —war and peace.
He cannot be entrusted with the sole power to risk the lives of American troops in war.
And he does not have that power under our Constitution.
The president’s strike took us to the edge of an unauthorized war, but we didn’t get here overnight.
The president’s unilateral decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement in May of 2018, combined with his disastrous maximum pressure campaign, destabilized the region.
Since we pulled out of the nuclear agreement, the president dramatically increased the number of troops in the Middle East – despite his campaign promise to do the opposite.
Between May and December of last year, the president deployed an additional 15,000 troops to the Middle East. Days before the strike on Suleimani, he sent in 1,000 more Army and Marine troops. Post-strike, he sent 3,500 more troops.
In response to our strike, Iran withdrew from the nuclear agreement’s limits on the production of centrifuges, uranium enrichment, and research – decreasing the time for Iran to acquire enough fissile material for one bomb.
The Iraqi Parliament voted to oust U.S. troops from Iraq – which could lead to an increased ISIS presence. And we have refused to leave the country. Setting up a conflict with our ally, Iraq.
Our strike pushed the Iraqi government and people closer to Iran.
And unified the Iranian people against us just as protests against the Iranian government were sprouting up.
The region is still a powder keg. And we just don’t know whether Iranian proxy forces will attack our troops.
And, finally, worst of all, Iran launched a missile attack against U.S. troops in Iraq – risking American lives.
While I am grateful no one was killed, I am anguished that more than 100 of our soldiers suffered from traumatic brain injury from the attack. While the president said that he doesn’t consider their injuries ‘serious,’ I agree with the Veterans of Foreign Wars who asked the President to apologize for that callous remark.
The president’s insults to injured service members is appalling. And his injury to the Constitution is deeply troubling.
We have a president who claims he doesn’t need Congressional approval to go to war with Iran. He’s actually said that, under Article 2 of the Constitution, he has ‘the right to do whatever I want as president.’
The founders of our Constitution would be shocked to hear that, and even more shocked to learn that the Congress refuses to act to assert its power.
The founders rejected the notion that the president alone should have the power to send the country into war. They believed it unwise to vest the president, one person, with that power.
And so they vested that decision with the people’s representatives to make sure that any war would have broad-based support.
That decision makes as much sense today as it did 230 years ago.
It is our job – as representatives of the people – to decide whether to go to war.
And the American people do not want war with Iran.
Yet, even if you disagree with the overwhelming will of the American people, the issue before us is not whether you would support war with Iran or not, the issue is whether we are going to uphold our oath to support and defend the Constitution.
The War Powers resolution before us exercises that constitutional prerogative, ending hostilities unless Congress authorizes it. This president is fully capable of starting a war without getting congressional approval or even without consulting with us. He's already proved that.
The stakes are too high.
We cannot wait until the next time he orders a strike he can't justify with consequences no one can predict. We cannot wait until the next time he gambles with American soldiers' lives.
Now is the time to set straight the boundaries, not only for this president but for future ones as well. Now is the time to vote – to vote for this resolution and to send the president a message that there is no support in congress for an unconstitutional war of his own making.
Madam President, I yield the floor.
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