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Bipartisan Senators Try To Reassert Congress' Role In Foreign Policy


Today the Senate is voting on a measure to limit President Trump's war powers when it comes to Iran. It's a rare bipartisan effort to push back on executive power. Here's NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Only a few weeks ago, the United States and Iran came to the brink of war. Iranians took to the streets to denounce a U.S. attack directed by President Trump that killed a top general, Qassem Soleimani.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hey, U.S. You started it. We will end it.

GRISALES: Iran retaliated with attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, leaving more than a hundred U.S. service members with brain injuries. In the weeks since, tensions have de-escalated, but there's worries the two countries could face confrontation again. And if there is a next time, a bipartisan group of lawmakers want the president to talk to Congress first.

TIM KAINE: The American public is like, we're tired of this. We are tired of perpetual war. If we have to go to war to defend the country, we will patriotically do so. But we're tired of perpetual war on autopilot.

GRISALES: That's Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine at his U.S. Capitol office. He's sponsoring a war powers resolution that would require the president to seek congressional approval with most military action against Iran.

President Trump has already threatened to veto it. And although Republicans were largely lockstep with Trump on fighting impeachment, some have been willing to break with him on foreign policy. One of those Republicans, Todd Young of Indiana, says it's time for Capitol Hill to be part of the debate.

TODD YOUNG: It's really important that Congress fulfill our constitutional responsibilities, which is to declare war, to authorize the use of military force and to engage in these debates on a consistent basis as long as we have men and women overseas ready to put their life on the line for all of us.

GRISALES: Another Republican, Mike Lee of Utah, agrees.

MIKE LEE: There's nothing about this that amounts to bucking the president. This is about making sure the process works as the Constitution requires.

GRISALES: In 2001 and 2002, Congress approved wide-ranging war authorizations following the Sept. 11 attacks. And since then, lawmakers have largely dodged this debate. But Kaine started working on this issue soon after he arrived in the Senate seven years ago under the Obama administration.

KAINE: Because this is not fundamentally about President Trump - it's not fundamentally about any president. It's about Congress. Congress has ceded its war-making authority over many years to presidents of both parties. And both parties in Congress have been complicit in this.

GRISALES: Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky also says the public wants Congress to weigh in.

RAND PAUL: You know, I think we've been at war too long in too many places, and it's time to talk about bringing our troops home.

GRISALES: This isn't the first time that the Senate has tried to push back on the president's foreign policy. Last year, Trump vetoed a congressionally approved war powers resolution to end military action in Yemen. But a few months later, the president curbed U.S. military action in the region.

Kaine is betting the Iran resolution could have the same chilling effect and shape future decisions. He said the president faces voters in November and will have to answer for what he says are perpetual wars.

KAINE: He may not care about Congress, but he cares deeply about what the American public think about the prospect of another war.

GRISALES: And even if supporters lose this round, they say their bipartisan coalition to take back Congress's war powers is growing.

Claudia Grisales, NPR News, the Capitol.

(SOUNDBITE OF MO LIFE'S "DAY GLO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.