WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), along with U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), introduced legislation to prohibit the United States from expending funds which could lead to war with Iran without express approval from Congress, as required by the Constitution. The Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act of 2018 makes it clear that a preemptive attack against Iran is illegal under the War Powers Act and the United States Constitution. The bill also affirms the United States’ ability to respond to an imminent military threat from Iran and defend U.S. citizens who may come under threat of physical harm.
The full text of the bill is available here.
As the legislation underscores, Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution of the United States grants Congress the sole power to declare war. The legislation is being introduced at a critical juncture -- on the same day that the president chaired a United Nations (UN) Security Council meeting on nonproliferation, and on the heels of the administration’s rejection of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), escalated tensions due to provocative administration rhetoric pushing towards regime change in Iran, and increased international isolation resulting from the president’s foreign policy. The president threatened Iran with military action on Twitter in July 2018, and just yesterday, National Security Advisor John Bolton publicly threatened Iran at a conference coinciding with the UN Security Council meeting.
The legislation introduced today restores to Congress the sole power to declare war by prohibiting any funding for an unauthorized attack on Iran – and thereby blocking the president from provoking an unnecessary military conflict in the Middle East.
“The administration’s approach to Iran is ripped straight out of the same playbook that launched us into the failed invasion of Iraq, and Congress needs to assert its constitutional authority and halt the march to war,” said Udall, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Every day, the president and his saber-rattling foreign policy advisors like John Bolton are inching us closer and closer to conflict, endangering our national security, jeopardizing our diplomatic interests and alarming our allies. The consequences of war with Iran would be catastrophic, risking the lives of thousands of Americans while squandering our global reputation, with little chance of improving our long-term security. The only way to stop Iran’s dangerous behavior in the region is with tough diplomacy in league with our allies, not threats and reckless aggression. With this legislation, we can empower Congress to once again assert its Constitutional authority and end the looming threat of war in order to make our nation, and the world, more safe. No administration, Democratic or Republican, should be permitted to enter the United States into another war in the Middle East without the approval of the American people and explicit authorization from Congress.”
“The Constitution empowers Congress, not the President, with the sole power to declare war,” said Leahy. “With the White House and Iran seemingly on a collision course, every effort must be made to avoid war. We should be ratcheting down the rhetoric, opening up channels of communication, and reducing the chance of igniting another armed conflict in a region where the consequences could be catastrophic.”
“President Trump’s decision to violate the Iran nuclear agreement and his hostile rhetoric aimed at the country’s leaders could spark another conflict in the Middle East,” said Feinstein. “Our bill makes it clear that President Trump cannot start a war with Iran without explicit congressional authorization, which he does not have. Instead of pushing us closer to conflict, the president should return to the nuclear agreement so we can work with our allies to address Iran’s other destabilizing actions.”
“Unilaterally and petulantly walking away from the Iran Nuclear Deal with no alternative was a rash and reckless move by President Trump,” said Durbin. “This bill is a reminder that he should not do the same in starting a war with Iran without Congressional approval as required by the Constitution.”
“The Constitution is very clear: it is the Congress, not the president, that has the authority to decide when our country goes to war,” said Sanders. “Since taking office, the Trump administration has pursued an extremely hostile and provocative policy against Iran. This bill makes clear that the Trump administration does not have authority to use the military for that purpose. We should be pursuing diplomacy to get Iran to change its problematic behavior, not war.”
“It is essential for the President to respect our Constitution, which delegates to Congress the power to declare war,” said Merkley. “This deliberation is critical to preventing a reckless and potentially disastrous march to war with Iran.”
“We have been at war for 17 years, spent over a trillion dollars, and lost thousands of lives. The last thing our country needs is another war in the Middle East,” said Heinrich. “President Trump is dangerously raising the risks of another war, so Congress should reassert its constitutional authority and require the Administration to receive its approval before it takes any preemptive military action against Iran. That's exactly what this legislation does.”
“There is no legal authorization for U.S. troops to be fighting Iran in Syria or anywhere else, and yet this administration seems to be spoiling for a fight. Americans are sick and tired of endless, costly wars. Launching a war against Iran, with no consent from Congress and absent a direct threat to the United States or our allies, would be a complete disaster, doing nothing but putting our troops’ lives at risk and making us less safe,” said Murphy.
The legislation is supported by various organizations, including VoteVets, JStreet and the Friends Committee on National Legislation.