UPDATE: The Senate left for a long July 4 recess on June 28 after having failed to pass the Udall-Kaine amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The amendment would have prevented any funds from being used to attack Iran, absent Congressional approval. Although the amendment didn’t meet the ⅔ majority vote required to pass, it did garner the support of the majority of the Senate (the final vote was 50-40 in favor, Senator Coons (D-DE) was unable to vote, but does support the amendment). “Today, a bipartisan coalition – a majority of the Senate – came together to rebuke the Trump administration’s march toward an unauthorized war with Iran,” said Senator Udall (D-NM). “This bipartisan Senate majority sent a powerful and resounding message: Congress is not going to roll over for an unconstitutional war.”
Although the Senate did not ultimately pass the amendment, the President still does not have the authority to attack Iran without Congressional approval.
According to the New York Times, President Donald Trump ordered a strike on Iran yesterday, only to call it off at the last minute. Only Congress, not the President, has the authority to initiate such a military action. Trump’s attack would have been illegal and unconstitutional.
It is not clear under what legal authority the Trump Administration would have used to justify its actions. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has floated the idea that the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) could justify President Trump unilaterally intiatiing military action against Iran. The idea that an AUMF against those who carried out the 9/11 terrorist attacks or harbored them authorizes a war with Iran seventeen years later has been roundly denounced by legal scholars and public officials across the aisle. After Trump carried out a military strikes on Syria, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis made the equally absurd claim that Article II of the US Constitution gave the President of the United States the authority to carry out the brazenly unconstitutional military strikes.
As a domestic civil liberties organization, Defending Rights & Dissent does not take positions on US foreign policy. However, the current tense situation between the US and Iran highlights the need for Congressional involvement. US military strikes against Iran run the risk of escalating into a wider war. Many experts believe that such a war would have an even greater human toll than the Iraq War, with disastrous implications. The underlying claims behind the drive to war–that Iran was behind attacks on ships in the Gulf of Oman or shot down a US surveillance drone in international, as opposed to Iranian, airspace–are the subject of significant controversy. This controversy is only heightened by public consciousness of the history of false intelligence claims, such as the Gulf of Tonkin or Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, being used to initiate wars. With murky facts and high risks, military action against Iran must be the subject of robust public debate. Congress must be given the chance to weigh the case for war, the risks involved, and make the ultimate decision.
Defending Rights & Dissent encourages Congress to pass pending legislation prohibiting US military action against Iran and Venezuela without Congressional authorization. We also call on Congress to end the blank check for war and repeal the AUMF.