WASHINGTON — Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and three other Republicans say they will vote with Democrats to pass a resolution invoking Congress’ war powers, positioning the Senate to formally counter President Trump’s ability to initiate further military action against Iran.

“Congress cannot be sidelined on these important decisions,” said Collins, who announced on Tuesday that she will co-sponsor a revised version of the resolution drafted by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia. She joins all 47 Democrats and Republican Sens. Todd Young of Indiana, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky. A vote on the measure could come as soon as next week.

The Republicans’ decision to back the resolution follows a contentious decision by the president to kill a top Iranian military commander in Baghdad this month. The administration has defended the operation as vital, even in the face of bipartisan frustration on Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers have chastised Trump and his senior advisers for taking such provocative action without consulting them first – and for refusing to say when they might seek Congress’ authorization before conducting similar strikes in the future.

In a statement released by her office Tuesday afternoon, Collins said the Constitution vests Congress with the sole power to declare war.

“Although the president as commander in chief has the power to lead and defend our armed forces and to respond to imminent attacks, no president has the authority to commit our military to a war,” Collins said. “It is important to reassert the Legislative branch’s war powers authorities regardless of who occupies the White House. This has been my position during every administration, Democratic or Republican.”

While rare for congressional Republicans to support Democrats who seek to impose checks on this president, it has become more common among a small band of GOP senators on matters where national security and the constitutional division of powers intersect.

This past summer, for instance, four Senate Republicans – Collins, Lee, Paul and Jerry Moran of Kansas – joined Democrats in a vote to demand that the administration seek congressional approval before launching any strikes on Iran. Earlier, seven Republicans joined Democrats to vote on a war powers resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen, though the president later vetoed that measure.

Kaine filed a draft of his resolution the day after the Iranian commander, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, was killed in a U.S. drone strike, and he has been working with Republicans to amend the measure so they would support it. As a result, the updated, bipartisan version removes all references to Trump and his administration’s statements and policies regarding Iran.

Kaine said Tuesday that he is continuing to work with other Republican senators, with hopes of attaining additional backing. Scheduling a vote, though, could prove challenging since next week will be dominated by the start of Trump’s impeachment trial.

The resolution is “privileged,” meaning Republicans opposed to the measure cannot block it from coming to a vote once it is “ripe.” It also means that supporters must secure only a simple majority in the Senate, 51 votes, for it to pass.

But it is almost certain that Trump will veto the measure and that Congress will not have the votes to override a veto.

The president’s supporters have strongly opposed the Senate’s effort and a similar measure that passed the House last week, on a vote of 224 to 194 with three Republicans backing it. The House resolution is not binding, however – meaning that the chamber may take up the Senate’s measure to send it to the president’s desk.

In her statement, Collins warned that Iran should not misinterpret the Senate measure as meaning that Americans are divided on the president’s constitutional prerogative to defend U.S. forces and American citizens around the world. She described Soleimani as a “ruthless enemy of America responsible for the deaths of more than 600 U.S. service members from 2005-2011.”

Collins pointed out that Soleimani gave the order that led to an attack on the U.S. embassy in Iraq and was planning additional attacks against Americans in Iraq and around the world.

“Iran remains the world’s foremost supporter of terrorism, pouring billions of dollars into terrorist groups and into funding the murderous Assad regime in Syria,” Collins said.

Collins said the resolution will continue to allow the president to respond to emergencies created by aggression from any hostile nation, including Iran.

“It also does not alter the president’s inherent authority as commander in chief to defend our nation and U.S. forces abroad. It simply makes it clear that only the Legislative branch may declare war or commit our armed forces to a sustained military conflict with Iran,” Collins said.

Trump’s deputies and supporters said the president was completely within his rights to order the strike, citing the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq and the president’s constitutional right to protect military personnel in harm’s way.

Supporters of the war powers measures have taken pains to say they believe Soleimani was reprehensible as they argue that Trump cannot trample on Congress’ right to declare war.

Kaine’s amended, bipartisan resolution states plainly that “Congress has not yet declared war upon, nor enacted a specific statutory authorization for use of military force against the Islamic Republic of Iran” and asserts that “the United States Armed Forces have been introduced into hostilities, as defined by the War Powers Resolution, against Iran.”

But it recognizes an exception in cases where the United States is “defending itself from imminent attack.”

Supporters of the war powers resolution say the administration has not presented evidence showing Soleimani posed an imminent threat to U.S. troops. Senior officials have said the strike was both to prevent an imminent threat and to respond to a previous attack by an Iranian-backed group that killed an American contractor in Iraq.

Press Herald Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.


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