Senate committee rejects proposal to require congressional approval before US strike on Iran

"There can be no war without Congressional authorization. That’s not our opinion— that’s the Constitution."

Chairman James Risch (R-ID) speaks at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on the humanitarian impact of the Syrian War at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on May 01, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)
Chairman James Risch (R-ID) speaks at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on the humanitarian impact of the Syrian War at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on May 01, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

The Senate Foreign Relations committee on Wednesday rejected a Democratic proposal to require congressional approval before the United States takes any military action against Iran.

The panel voted 13-9 against the proposal, according to Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who co-sponsored the measure with Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM). Every Republican on the panel voted against the proposal with the exception of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).


The measure, which was introduced in the committee as an amendment to a bill on Syria, was meant in part to remind the Trump administration that “they do not have legal authorization to launch a war against Iran without our consent,” Murphy said in a statement.


Udall wrote on Twitter that he was disappointed with the vote, but noted that “for the first time, senators are on the record about unconstitutional war with Iran.”

“There can be no war without congressional authorization,” he reiterated. “That’s not our opinion— that’s the Constitution.”

The failed vote has worrying implications, given the growing drumbeat of war from the Trump administration.

Since President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement last year — a deal reached by the United States, Iran, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China — tensions between Washington and Tehran have escalated. The president has reimposed sanctions on Iran, designated Tehran’s Revolutionary Guard as a foreign terrorist group, and in the past week has hinted at a growing likelihood of war.

On Monday, Trump was asked during a press conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán if he was at war with or seeking regime change in Iran.


“We’ll see what happens with Iran,” the president replied. “If they do anything, it would be a very bad mistake. If they do anything. I’m hearing little stories about Iran. If they do anything, they will suffer greatly.”

The following day, Trump said he would send a “hell of a lot” more than 120,000 troops to the Middle East to counter Iran, should the country attack U.S. forces or resume nuclear fuel production it suspended under the nuclear deal.

According to the New York Times, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated military plan that calls for 120,000 troops, just a few days after the Trump administration claimed without evidence that Iran is encouraging its proxy groups in Iraq and Syria to attack U.S. forces.

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held last-minute meetings in both Iraq and Belgium to try to convince allies of Iran’s growing threat. (His efforts failed, according to officials in both countries. One senior European diplomat at the meeting in Brussels told the Wall Street Journal, “He wanted a photo op. We declined and stuck with the plan.”)

Trump allies in Congress also hinted at a coming war with Iran over the past week. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK), who has been a vocal advocate of regime change in Iran, said the United States would defeat Iran in just “two strikes.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) insisted that whether the United States goes to war is in the hands of Iran, saying, “It’s all on them, and it’s a grave risk.”

In recent days, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has been perhaps the most vocal advocate for war. On Monday, he encouraged the president to “stand firm” against Iran. Later, following a briefing from National Security Advisor John Bolton, Graham maintained that Tehran is creating “threat streams against American interests in Iraq.”


On Monday, Trump seemed to deescalate some of his rhetoric on Iran, telling reporters that that there is, in fact, no real threat from Iran. “We have no indication that anything’s happened or will happen. But if it does, it will be met, obviously, with great force,” the president said. “We will have no choice.”

This failed to tamp down the talk of coming conflict, however. Even after Trump’s remarks, Graham — who is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and voted down Wednesday’s proposal — was still talking about war.

“The Obama-era policy of Iranian appeasement is over,” Graham wrote on Twitter. “The days of Iran killing Americans – without consequence – is over.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this piece mistakenly referred to Sen. Tom Udall as representing Utah. It has been updated to note that he is a senator from New Mexico.