US senate chief opens door to vote on Iran war authorization

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (L) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (L) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said he’s willing to vote on a controversial amendment that would require Congress to approve any military action against Iran, but warned colleagues it could signal disunity in Washington to a foreign adversary.

McConnell said he’s open to voting on a bipartisan amendment sponsored by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) that would block funding for military action against Iran without prior congressional approval.

The legislation also has support from Republican Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Mike Lee (Utah).

Democrats feared that McConnell would try to bypass a debate on Iran by voting as soon as Wednesday to cut off debate on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which would be the vehicle for the Iran amendment.

But McConnell put those anxieties to rest Tuesday.

“We’re not opposed to having the vote and we’re working on having that vote, passing NDAA and doing the supplemental [border spending bill], all this week,” he said.

He urged colleagues, however, to vote against the Iran war authorization amendment.

“I don’t think it’s good for this country to see the Iranians observing us arguing over all this, either. So my hope is that it will be defeated. We’ll find out by how much of a margin but we hope to defeat it,” he said.

McConnell argued that a war authorization “is not required under this set of circumstances.”

“Nobody is advocating going to war with Iran. Not the president, not the secretary of State, none of the generals. No one,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) hailed the development as good news.

“I’m getting some heartening news here,” Schumer said shortly after reading McConnell’s comments.

“We should sit down and work out an agreement to have this amendment. It will be voted yes or no, I don’t know the answer to that. And then we pass the NDAA. That’s the way to go, that’s the way our caucus feels,” he added.

Senate Democrats debated their strategy during a closed-door lunch Tuesday.

They discussed the possibility of blocking the defense authorization bill, which has passed every year for 59 straight years, to force Republicans to allow a vote on the Udall-Kaine Iran amendment.

“People want to move forward on both. They want the authorization bill to pass and they want a vote on the amendment,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), who said his fellow Democrats went “back and forth” on what to do.

Durbin said he would vote against moving ahead with the defense bill if he couldn’t get a vote on the Iran amendment but didn’t know how many other Democratic senators would do the same.

Republicans were gearing up to hit Democrats for blocking the defense bill.

“There’s a chance we could not get it done. That would be the first time in 59 years that we didn’t do it,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who noted the bill passed out of his committee overwhelmingly.

THE HILL