WASHINGTON—Ahead of a Senate vote to prevent an unauthorized war with Iran, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism, delivered remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate calling on his colleagues to stand up to President Trump’s reckless foreign policy and march to war with Iran by passing the War Powers resolution. Murphy also called on the need to reform the War Powers process, so the current president and future presidents respect the role Congress has in making the decision to go to war.
“[I]t has been more than a month since President Trump brought the United States to the brink of war with Iran by ordering the killing of Iran's top general Qasem Soleimani. Now, no one here mourns Soleimani’s death. He was a ruthless killer. He has American blood all over his hands. But decisions over whether to attack sovereign nations or whether to send American troops to war, those are not decisions for the executive branch to make. These are decisions that the Constitution vests only in the United States Congress. And that's why we need to pass, on a bipartisan basis, the War Powers Resolution that is currently pending before this body,” Murphy said.
Murphy continued: “Iran's fighting back; they are escalating. They may not be shooting missiles at American military bases. But they are gaining ground. They are taking provocative actions throughout the region. And it's really important for us to understand that. It's really important for us to understand how we are losing ground in places like Iraq and Yemen and Lebanon, how much stronger Iran is getting as a direct consequence of the action that was taken without congressional authorization.”
Murphy concluded: “So yes, let's pass this resolution but we can't stop there. Congress needs to do our job to reform the war powers system, so that this president and future presidents of both parties respect both Congress's role and the deepest responsibility that we all have to the American people when we make a decision to go to war.”
Last month, Murphy joined Foreign Policy for America to give keynote remarks about Iran’s retaliation for the Soleimani strike and the current crisis in U.S. diplomacy. Murphy criticized the administration’s decision to kill IRGC General Qasem Soleimani last month, and took to the U.S. Senate floor detailing the Trump administration’s disastrous Iran policy that led to this point. Last year, he published a joint op-ed in USA Today with U.S. Representative Jim Himes (CT-4) raising concerns about the president’s march to war with Iran.
Full transcript of Murphy’s remarks is below:
“Thank you, Mr. President
“Mr. President, it has been more than a month since President Trump brought the United States to the brink of war with Iran by ordering the killing of Iran's top general Qasem Soleimani. Now, no one here mourns Soleimani’s death. He was a ruthless killer. He has American blood all over his hands. But decisions over whether to attack sovereign nations or whether to send American troops to war, those are not decisions for the executive branch to make. These are decisions that the Constitution vests only in the United States Congress. And that's why we need to pass, on a bipartisan basis, the War Powers Resolution that is currently pending before this body.
“I want to come to the floor today to raise three issues for my colleagues, and I'll try to do it briefly, surrounding the president's decision to use force against Iran, and what the implications are for us, both as a body and as a nation.
“First, I just think it's always important when we're talking about this topic to level set. I think it's important for us to realize how much President Trump has thrown away. This is a president who is running a master class right now on creating crises that didn't exist before he started flailing away in the China shop. And then this president claims that we all have to get together behind his efforts to clean up the mess that he and his administration largely created.
“So let's just remember where we were with Iran when President Trump came into office. When President Trump arrived in the Oval Office, Iran had stopped their quest for nuclear weapons capabilities. They were complying with an intrusive inspections regime to make sure they didn't cheat on that agreement. Iranian-backed militias had stopped firing rockets at U.S. personnel in Iraq. And in fact, those militias were actively working on a U.S.-led project, the eradication of ISIS. President Obama had unified the entire world against Iran, even Russia and China were working side by side with the United States to constrict Iran's nuclear program. And with the nuclear agreement secured, this global coalition had essentially been teed up for President Trump to be used to make new progress to pressure Iran on a next set of concessions on their ballistic missile program or their support for terrorist proxies across the region, but President Trump threw this all away.
“And now, despite the sanctions that he's imposed on them unilaterally, Iran is more powerful than ever. We went from a construct in which we had the United States, Europe, China, and Russia aligned against Iran to a moment today, where on many issues it is Iran, the European Union, China, and Russia aligned against the United States. How much ground have we lost?
“Now, this town tends to view power only through a military prism. And so we've kind of lost sight of Iran’s provocative actions, because since the strike in Iraq against our troops, we haven't had front page headlines about what Iran is doing. But let's talk about that strike for a moment, because we need to make it clear that contrary to the administration's assertions, the Soleimani strike did not deter Iran at all. They levied a barrage of rockets at our forces in Iraq that were designed to kill. Some suggested that night and the next day that maybe their attack was calibrated to sustain minimal damage. Now we know that's not the case. In fact, it was calibrated to try to wipe out over 100 American soldiers—they missed. But of course, now we're finding out that they actually didn't miss. At first the administration reported no injuries, then it was a few, then it was dozens. Now, the injury report has over 100. Now thank God nobody was killed. But let's be clear, Iran fired rockets that injured over 100 American soldiers, and we didn't respond at all.
“Now, I'm glad that we chose a path of military de-escalation. But nobody in this administration and none of their allies in Congress can pretend that we restored deterrence. Second, it's important to note that Iran is retaliating. They're retaliating all over the region. In Iraq, they are stronger than ever before. They have a new Prime Minister-designate that is incredibly close to Iran. They managed to get a vote in parliament, nonbinding admittedly, to kick all American soldiers out of that country. And we're still in the middle of a negotiation to try to keep some American military presence there to fight ISIS. But Iran has used this opportunity to get more and more embedded in the Iraqi infrastructure and the anti-Iran protests that were happening in Iraq are no longer making headlines because many of those elements are now lined up against the United States instead of against Iran.
“Remember, Soleimani was working every single day to try to get American troops out of Iraq. And it may be that he gets closer in death to his goal than he did while he was alive.
“In Yemen, Iran is fighting back. Now, it is hard to see into the relationship between the Houthis and the Iranians. But the Houthis are acting out in provocative ways that are fundamentally different today than they were prior to the death of Soleimani. They are restricting humanitarian aid, they are launching attacks against civilian sites. And we don't know that the Houthis are undertaking these actions from orders from Iran, but it is likely that it is not coincidental that the Houthis’ increase in activity in Yemen—further destabilizing a country that's really important in the United States—is happening at the very moment that Iran is looking for ways to get back at the United States for the Soleimani strike.
“Remember, ISIS and Al Qaeda are inside Yemen. The wing of al Qaeda that has the clearest designs against the United States takes advantage of the chaos inside Yemen to recruit and to grow and to expand their territory. And so as the Houthis are further destabilizing Yemen, the enemies of the United States are potentially getting stronger. Iran is once again back on the march inside Yemen.
“And then in Lebanon. In Lebanon, we had this moment. We had this moment in which there were protests on the street that were demanding a Lebanese government free of corruption and free of Iranian influence. We were this close to getting a technocratic government in Lebanon that might finally break the grip of Iran on elements of Lebanese politics. And instead of taking advantage of that moment, the United States decided that it was going to cut off aid to the army that was protecting the protesters. And the combination of that mistake and then the assassination of General Soleimani allowed Iran to upend the momentum that was running against Tehran inside Lebanon. And now guess what we have in Lebanon? We have a Hezbollah government…in Lebanon, and instead of getting a citizen-focused, technocratic government, we have an Iranian-aligned Hezbollah government in Lebanon.
“Iran's fighting back; they are escalating. They may not be shooting missiles at American military bases. But they are gaining ground. They are taking provocative actions throughout the region. And it's really important for us to understand that. It's really important for us to understand how we are losing ground in places like Iraq and Yemen and Lebanon, how much stronger Iran is getting as a direct consequence of the action that was taken without congressional authorization.
“And my third and last point is this: even if we pass this War Powers Resolution, this president is still going to maintain that he has a Mack Truck sized loophole through which he can run military action overseas without coming to Congress. The president's article two authority, and he has it—I’m not denying that the president doesn't have constitutional authority to protect America prior to a congressional authorization—but the president's article two authority has morphed over time into a monster. And Congress needs to do more than just pass War Powers Resolutions to contain this Godzilla.
“Now, for years presidents of both parties have stretched executive war-making power too far. I have been on this floor criticizing a Democratic president, President Obama, who I argue should have come to Congress for authorization for airstrikes against Libya, should have come to Congress and ask for authorization before launching an offensive against ISIS or waging drone wars in Yemen or Pakistan. But President Trump has taken this abuse to new levels and the threat of falling into a new war with Iran based on whispers of intelligence and without any authorization from Congress is a real possibility that we got to take seriously in this body.
“In fact, I listened to an administration official this week make the case that the president was actually authorized to kill Soleimani, because the IRGC, the military group that he led, was listed by the administration as a terrorist organization. And I know that many of my colleagues have heard the administration make elements of this argument as well. That's a ridiculous arguments that fails on its face.
“Remember, the administration, not Congress, designates who's on the terrorist list. And so, you cannot argue that the executive-level designation of a terrorist group is a declaration of war. It’s not even a debatable proposition, but the administration is apparently making it.
“So what I'm saying is that we need to be looking towards the reform of the War Powers process more broadly. The overreach of multiple administration proves the need for an enforcement and enforcement mechanism for Congress, and more specifically, definitions around the circumstances in which a president can use force before coming to Congress—a new War Powers Act that should sunset the existing authorizations of military force to force us to come back to the table and write new authorizations for the military engagements that we still need to be in overseas. And it should create templates for new Authorizations of Military Force that include reasonable sunset provisions on those new AUMFs and protections to make sure that those authorizations don't get stretched to cover groups in geographic areas that were never contemplated by the legislators who drafted the initial authorizations.
“For many folks, it feels all too familiar to be down here today, having this argument over the president's military escalation with Iran. We're talking about manipulated intelligence, a drumbeat of war. We're listening to the administration and its advocates bully Congress and the American people into avoiding this debate. The suggestion that by questioning U.S. military objectives overseas were somehow hurting the troops. It all brings back these flashbacks of the disastrous path to war in Iraq. And this vote is essential in my mind, so that we warn ourselves against going back down that wretched path again.
“So yes, let's pass this resolution but we can't stop there. Congress needs to do our job to reform the war powers system, so that this president and future presidents of both parties respect both Congress's role and the deepest responsibility that we all have to the American people when we make a decision to go to war.
“I yield the floor.”