The Senate Has Decided To Restrict Trump’s War Powers

The US Senate voted in favour of a bipartisan measure that would limit US President Donald Trump’s authority to start military operations against Iran.

Bipartisan Effort to Restrict Trump’s War Powers

The resolution was authored by Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. He asserted that the President must win approval from Congress before engaging in future military action against Tehran. In a devastating blow to Trump, eight Republicans sided with the Democrats on Wednesday on a procedural motion to force a vote on the issue as early as Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

Both Trump and his supporters have argued that the legislation sends a signal of weakness to Iran and other potential adversaries.

However, Kaine and his supporters said the measure was not targeted at Trump or his presidency, but instead characterised them as a significant reassertion of congressional power to declare war.

Which Republicans Supported the Resolution?

The legislation had the support of GOP senators like Senator Mike Lee of Utah, who supports the President’s foreign policy towards Iran, but also believes that Congress cannot escape its constitutional responsibility to act on issues of war and peace.

Although Kaine’s measure had cross-party support, it is understandable why the President and his supporters believe this bill is targeted at his presidency. The Democratic Senator was Hillary Clinton’s running mate in the 2016 US Presidential Election, and many in his party opposed Trump’s order to kill Iranian General Qassem Soleimani last month.

This is why the Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, opposed the bill because he believes that it sends the wrong message to the US’s allies.

No Guarantee Resolution Will Become Law

There is no guarantee that the legislation will become law yet. Now that it has passed the Senate, the House of Representatives could take up the former chamber’s resolution later this month.

Also, if Trump vetoes the resolution, it would require two-thirds of both chambers to overturn the President’s veto.

All US presidents since George W. Bush have enjoyed an expansion in executive authority to declare war following 9/11. According to Chris Edelson, assistant professor at American University’s School of Public Affairs, Congress has struggled to challenge any sitting president who has overstepped the limits of their emergency powers.

During 2011, Congress failed to challenge Barack Obama’s executive order to declare war on Libya, a conflict arguably as controversial as the 2003 Iraq War, and the former president’s decision to order attacks against ISIS was not thwarted by the legislature either.

This is why Kaine’s resolution is so radical because it could limit the executive’s authority to declare war for the first time in almost twenty years.

Expansion of Executive Authority is Nothing New

But as the American University argues, presidents pushing the limits of executive authority when it comes to national security is not entirely new. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War, though he secured congressional authorisation to do so.

As another example, Harry Truman ordered the Secretary of Commerce to seize and control the country’s steel mills to produce weapons during the Korean War, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional.

For those who believe that the legislature should have the final say to authorise the executive’s decision to declare war, Kaine’s legislation is a welcome move. However, at a time when the nature of war is changing and terrorist attacks are becoming more sophisticated, it could weaken Trump’s authority to act quickly if an individual or terrorist group poses an imminent threat to the US. This was the main reason why Bush was awarded those powers in 2001 and why no president has faced the prospect of being robbed of them until now.

Checks and balances are needed. Arguably⁠—the Bush administration went too far in its waterboarding of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay⁠—but with Iran becoming more threatening, this bill could not come at a worse time for the Trump administration or for American readiness to face national security threats.