McConnell: War Powers Resolution is “Deeply Flawed on a Number of Levels”

‘During President Obama’s tenure, Democrats said frequently that “when it comes to Iran, we should never take the military option off the table.” But now they seek to use this privileged resolution to do precisely that.’

WASHINGTON, D.C.U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding the War Powers Resolution:

‘Today the Senate will consider a War Powers Resolution offered by the junior Senator for Virginia. Our colleague’s resolution is deeply flawed on a number of levels.

‘As I explained yesterday, it is too blunt and too broad. It is also an abuse of the War Powers Act, which was designed to strike a balance between the President’s constitutional war powers and Congress’ own war powers and oversight responsibilities.

‘Some of us believe the War Powers Act went too far in undermining the Separation of Powers and infringing upon the authorities of the Commander-in-Chief.

‘But apart from that debate, everyone should acknowledge that it was designed to stop Vietnams -- the deployment of thousands of troops into sustained combat without Congressional authorization. Not the one-off uses of limited force that presidents have carried out for centuries.

‘Until recently, most in this body recognized the need for presidents to have flexibility with respect to the threat of military force. They saw the deterrent effect and diplomatic utility of keeping our options open.

‘During President Obama’s tenure, Democrats said frequently that “when it comes to Iran, we should never take the military option off the table.” But now they seek to use this privileged resolution to do precisely that.

‘The collateral institutional damage of this action would fall on our military. Its ability to operate quickly and adaptively to emerging threats would be jeopardized.

‘Colleagues -- if you want to take the truly significant step of preemptively taking options off the table for defending our troops, if you really want to remove troops from Syria or Iraq altogether, be honest. Make your case.

‘Find 60 votes to pass legislation. Find 67 votes to override a presidential veto. Don’t use a blunt and imprecise War Powers Resolution to end-run around the constitutional structures that make this a difficult proposition by design.  

‘There is no ongoing, protracted combat with respect to Iran. Our troops are not mired in unending hostilities. The War Powers Act aims to impose a 60-day clock on combat operations.  The strike that killed Soleimani took maybe 60 seconds. 

‘Clearly this is the wrong tool for this subject. 

‘We’ve just come through an impeachment trial because House Democrats rushed to use this serious tool as a political weapon of first resort, rather than patiently conducting more normal oversight using the more normal tools that Congresses of both parties typically use.

‘No patience for ordinary oversight; just rush to grab the bluntest tool available to make a political statement against the President.

‘Well, this War Powers debate bears an eerie resemblance to that pattern.

‘To listen to some of the advocates of Senator Kaine’s resolution, you’d think that sweeping resolutions like this were the only means available to Senators to express any discomfort with the White House’s foreign policy.

‘Of course that isn’t so. If Senators’ priority is genuine oversight, there are countless tools in their toolbox. They can hold hearings. They can engage the Administration directly. They can ask questions and raise issues they feel were not sufficiently addressed in interagency deliberations.

‘Instead, like impeachment, this War Powers resolution cuts short that interplay between the branches. It short-circuits the thoughtful deliberation and debate. It’s a dangerously overbroad resolution that should not pass Congress and is certain to be vetoed if it does.

‘If my colleagues want to make a real difference, this is not the way to go.

‘The amendments my Republicans colleagues and I have filed expose the shortcomings and unintended risks of this approach.

‘Senator Kaine has drafted a rule of construction that tries to provide an exception allowing U.S. troops to defend themselves against an attack if it is, quote, “imminent.”

‘My amendment exposes the absurdity of this by simply removing the word “imminent.”

‘How imminent, exactly, is imminent enough? When do our men and women in uniform get to defend themselves? I’d like to know. Should our servicemembers need to sit on intelligence until an attack is a week away? A day away? An hour away? Until they see the whites of the enemy’s eyes?

‘And who makes the determination about imminence? 535 members of Congress? The president? A Pentagon lawyer? A battlefield commander? Some young private?

‘This resolution imposes a new constraint on the military without answering any of these questions.

‘If we have intelligence warning that an enemy is planning to attack our forces, can we not disrupt the plot until the attack is almost underway?

‘Senators Cotton, Rounds, and Sullivan have also filed amendments. They propose sensible additions to give our troops and their commanders more confidence we aren’t trying to tie their hands against precisely the threats they might face if Iran were again to become emboldened enough to attack us.

‘Oh, and to make sure we can defend our diplomats and Embassies, too, if they were to face renewed threats.

‘Clearly, this resolution is not ready for prime time.

‘I believe it is just an effort to broadcast a political message. But even that message can be harmful to our troops and to national security.

‘What message will the Senate send to American servicemembers? Should they doubt whether their own leaders are authorized to defend them?

‘What message should we send to our regional allies and partners? Can they count on continued solidarity from the United States?

‘What would it say to real great-power competitors like Russia and China if we cannot even remain united in the face of a lesser challenger such as Iran?

‘Let’s send the right message with our votes. Let’s defeat this misguided resolution.’

Related Issues: Iran, Senate Democrats, America's Military