Senate Address On Preventing An Unauthorized War With Iran

. . . Senate Floor

Mr. President, on another subject, last month the United States and Iran came frighteningly close to war. If any of Iran’s missiles had killed American soldiers at those military bases in Iraq, President Trump would have reacted very differently and, most likely, without consulting Congress.

Rather than the self-congratulatory statements by the President who depicted the brazen, ballistic missile attacks against our bases that failed to kill any of our troops stationed there a victory, we could be in the midst of a calamity spiraling out of control.

Obviously, I think of the soldiers who have brain injuries from the attack, injuries that the President dismissed as minor headaches. Well, those who have actually served in the military and were not able to get deferments from serving know that an attack like that can produce lasting injuries.

This is the nightmare scenario we have to avoid. We have been on a path to war with Iran ever since President Trump recklessly abandoned the Iran nuclear agreement, with no credible alternative strategy. There was nothing to replace it.

Today, while the White House insists there is no need for the resolution we are debating because the danger is behind us, the possibility of war with Iran remains very real. As we saw only a month ago, we could again find ourselves on the brink of war with Iran at any time.

For too long, this President and previous Presidents have sent U.S. forces into hostilities without obtaining the consent of Congress, and the Congress has been a willing party. The Congress has abdicated its constitutional responsibility as the sole branch of government with the authority to declare war. It has permitted the misapplication of open-ended and outdated authorizations for the use of military force.

The result is endless wars the American people don’t support, at a cost of thousands of American lives lost and trillions of dollars spent that could have been far better used fixing problems here in our own country.

No one denies any President’s right to act in self-defense, to respond to an imminent threat if reliable intelligence shows that such a threat exists. But neither is it credible to rely on an authorization for the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein—an authorization that was based on lies by the White House about nonexistent weapons of mass destruction—to justify attacks against Iran nearly two decades later.

Not a single Member of this body who voted for that use of force in 2002—and I did not because I had read the intelligence and knew the stories coming from the White House were not true. Not a single Member, though, who voted for that use of force can honestly say they could have imagined or intended that authorization for the use of force in Iraq would be used to justify armed hostilities against Iran so many years later.

A few weeks ago, a top administration official said it would be a mistake for the Senate to even have a debate about the President’s war powers. He said it would embolden Iran’s leaders if they saw that there are differences of opinion among us. Has he ever read a history book? Has he ever read our Constitution? He said it would be wrong for us to disagree on an issue as consequential as attacking another country, as though in the United States we should simply serve as a rubber stamp for the President.

That is so beneath the United States of America. That is so beneath our Constitution. It is so beneath the democratic principles we believe in, to be told by a top administration official that we shouldn’t even debate an issue like this. As others have said, including Senators in the President’s party, that is an insult, it is dangerous, and it belies a fundamental lack of understanding of Congress’s role in this democracy.

Others, including the President, have falsely accused Democrats of sympathizing with Mr. Soleimani or even with the Ayatollah, both of whom are responsible for heinous crimes. That kind of baseless, partisan slander and fearmongering is what we have come to expect from this White House, but it belittles the Office of the Presidency, as does a statement from a top official that we should not discuss our disagreements.

But too many of our friends in the other party—unlike the way the Senate used to be—have remained mute. By saying nothing, they condone such reprehensible behavior. One can only wonder how they would react if the tables were turned and they were the targets of such despicable, ad hominem attacks.

Under the Constitution, it is our job, it is our responsibility to debate and vote, especially if it involves war and peace and the lives of our servicemen and women and their families.

I would make a suggestion to the President and to members of his Cabinet: Read the Constitution. And I would say to those in this body who too often ignore what the Constitution says: Read the Constitution. Think of the lives lost, the many more grievously wounded, the families destroyed, the millions of innocent people forced to flee the carnage, and the huge amount of tax dollars wasted because of that fateful vote in 2002. A vote based on false pretenses. A vote that made the world less safe. We can’t afford to repeat that unforgiveable mistake.

This resolution, of which I am a cosponsor, ensures that debate will happen, and that we will have another chance to exercise our authority under article I of the Constitution and do what is right.

I yield the floor. 

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