Senate eyes Iran, limits on military force
Sen. Chris Coons of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee delivered remarks on the Senate floor about the War Powers Resolution from Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) that would limit the president’s ability to use military force against Iran without congressional authorization.
Remarks as delivered:
Madam President, I want to simply make a few observations today about the importance of the war-making power and the role of Congress. My view, we’re at a critical inflection point in our nation, one where history will question whether we served our nation or served more partisan or parochial aims. To be clear, I do not seek or want a war between the United States and Iran. I think our best path forward is a multilateral, several nations coming together initiative, to deescalate rising conflict between the United States and Iran with tens of millions of people displaced from their homes around the world, from conflicts ranging from Syria and Yemen to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Central African Republic, there’s conflict in many places in our world, and our country has seen what happens in the absence of effective diplomacy.
But I came to the floor today really, in no small part, because in the group briefings that happened after the strike that killed General Soleimani, points were made that I think deserve to be addressed. One, a suggestion was made by one participant that simply debating whether or not the authorization for the use of military force that was adopted by Congress back in 2001 or 2002 simply debating whether or not that authorized this strike, simply questioning whether or not this strike should be authorized and future actions authorized by this Congress would weaken the morale of our troops, would send a signal to our enemies and adversaries of a lack of resolve by our nation. And so, we in Congress should simply allow the president under Article 2, which gives to him the Commander-in-Chief responsibility to simply exercise the overwhelming capabilities of the United States and our tremendous armed forces to keep us safe and to push back on our adversaries.
I don’t think anything could be further from the truth. I actually think it strengthens our democracy when we engage in a robust and vigorous debate on this question. I actually think showing that we have confidence in our Constitution and that we in the Senate realize that over decades we have gradually allowed our central role in authorizing war to be weakened, that retaking some of that role is in fact showing confidence in our democracy. So, let me be clear upfront. I support the men and women of the United States Armed Forces, and I have great confidence in their ability to carry out their mission. I am clear-eyed about the threat that Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran, poses to our interests to the region and to the world as one of the world’s great state sponsors of terrorism, as one of the great sources of instability in the region, as a country that for 40-plus years has been genuinely opposed to much of what the United States believes in and tries to do in the region, I am clear-eyed both about supporting our troops and about the threat posed by Iran.
But if we are to do right by the men and women of the United States Armed Forces, who we ask to go around the world and to serve us and to sacrifice for us and to keep us safe, we can do no less than to ask whether we are sending them with the full support of the American people. And this Senate Joint Resolution 68 begins with a simple, but important, finding. Congress has the sole power to declare war under Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11 of the United States Constitution, and Congress has not yet declared war upon nor enacted a specific statutory authorization for the use of military force against Iran. That makes a simple point. Previous administrations of both parties have overused the authorizations for the use of military force passed here in 2001 and 2002. A majority of the currently-serving members, an overwhelming majority of the currently serving members, were not present for the debates that led to those authorizations and the fact patterns and circumstances that led to their being adopted have long since passed into history. And so, if we in this chamber are to exercise our responsible role, we shouldn’t simply let the president take the responsibility, and possibly the blame, for the conduct of war overseas, but we should take that responsibility back on ourselves.
In 2001, Congress authorized the use of force against Al-Qaeda and associated forces based on the deadly strike against the United States in our territory that happened on 9/11, but did not authorize the use of force against Iran. In 2002, Congress did the same against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, which was one of Iran’s greatest enemies...and now. And so frankly, I think to suggest that either of these former authorizations for the use of military force, or AUMFs, authorize this action goes way beyond its scope. I have heard from hundreds of constituents at home in Delaware, their rising anxiety and concern, and I’ve heard from many both currently serving and formerly serving that we should do our job. That Congress has a role. That we need to debate and demand a strategy from this administration and a path forward that we can articulate and defend. We are in a scenario now where the possibility of military conflict between the United States and Iran is entirely foreseeable.
President Trump has drawn a line in the sand much as his predecessor did and said we will never let Iran have a nuclear weapon. And with the United States having withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA, and with Iran and our European allies increasingly farther and farther apart on their conduct, and with Iran restarting centrifuges and restarting enrichment, it is not an unforeseeable moment that whether weeks or months or years from now, but quite possibly months, a team from the senior ranks of our military will go to the president and say here is a range of options that might include striking Iran. That is a fact pattern that requires Congress to provide it authorization. Yes, I recognize there are exigencies, there are there are emergencies, there are moments where the president must take action to authorize our armed forces to strike in order to defend our troops, defend our interests at home and abroad. But this entirely foreseeable scenario, one which we should all be working to avoid but which is foreseeable, is exactly why I am supporting the bipartisan resolution introduced by Senators Kaine and Lee. The United States Senate must take back its responsibility for authorizing our armed forces to protect us overseas, and we need to show clear-eyed support for our armed forces and for the path forward. President Trump, like all presidents before him, does not have the authority to wage war without consulting this Congress. And Democrats and Republicans are concerned about this administration’s apparent indifference towards Congress and its critical role in deciding matters of war and peace. The House has just passed two measures to restrict the president’s war-making powers. The Senate needs to have that same debate, that same discussion, and needs to take up and pass this resolution. This is how our system of government works best. Through respectful disagreement, through thoughtful, informed debate, and through votes in both chambers to express the will of the American people.
So, let me close by saying this. To service members whom I meet in Delaware, to many more serving around the country and around the world, war should be our last resort. And if diplomacy should fail in this case or others, I will insist our administration produce a clear strategy and a mission for our troops that our service men and women can accomplish and that our Congress provides our military with the resources and authorities they need. We are blessed with a system of democratic governance that challenges us, in times when stakes are highest, to rise to the occasion and to earn our place in the history of this democratic republic. We do that by reaffirming our faith in our Constitution, including Article 1, which gives to this body the responsibility to weigh vital decisions of war and peace. With that, thank you, Madam President, I yield the floor.