News & Politics

Do Democrats Have Enough Votes to Pass the War Powers Resolution in the Senate?

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., addresses the Northam For Governor election night party at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

A resolution that would limit the president’s ability to take the United States to war has enough votes to pass the Senate, Democrats are saying.

The resolution, sponsored by Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, would theoretically prevent the president from “going to war” against Iran without prior congressional authorization. It’s only theoretical because the resolution would not have the force of law behind it, and there would almost certainly be exceptions, such as the president having to deal with an “imminent” threat. There may also be a problem with defining “going to war.” We could launch a thousand cruise missiles at Iran and not put one American soldier in danger. Is that “war”? Or something else?

The resolution grew out of Trump’s takedown of Qasem Suleimani and the idea that he never consulted Congress about the action. At its most basic, the attack on Suleimani was America eliminating a deadly terrorist enemy. Must the president “consult” Congress every time the government takes out a terrorist? During the Obama administration, Congress would have been very busy, indeed, constantly debating and deciding whether approval would be given for the dozens of terrorists he killed in various countries around the world.

As expected, there are Republican defections.

Fox News:

The GOP lawmakers behind Kaine’s resolution include Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Mike Lee, R-Ut.; Todd Young, R-Ind.; and Susan Collins, R-Maine.

“Although the President as Commander in Chief has the power to lead and defend our armed forces and to respond to imminent attacks, no President has the authority to commit our military to a war,” Collins said in a statement of support on Tuesday. “It is important to reassert the Legislative Branch’s war powers authorities regardless of who occupies the White House.  This has been my position during every administration, Democratic or Republican.”

Despite its bipartisan support, the resolution faces an uphill battle even if it is approved by Congress because it will likely be vetoed by Trump or be amended to include a caveat that would allow the president to use military force in the case of an imminent threat.

It’s a worthy effort to try and limit the executive’s power in this way, but not very practical in terms of security or governance. This isn’t the War of 1812 or any other war following. By the time Congress got around to declaring war, Americans would be dead and our friends threatened.

And then what? Suppose Congress refuses to authorize military force? Should American forces slink away in the night to avoid a confrontation? Even dealing with an “imminent threat” would be problematic. Any effort to do so would precipitate a response from Iran. What then?

It takes two nations to go to war and Congress only has a say in one of them. We can certainly understand the desire by Congress to reclaim some of their authority to make war, but do you trust the Democrats to be nuanced enough to recognize the dangers inherent in any limits placed on the president’s powers?

As an expression of congressional will, the resolution is a fine thing. By any time you get 535 secretaries of state or defense weighing in on war or peace, you risk disaster.