May 08, 2020

Menendez Remarks on Effort to Override Trump Veto of War Powers Resolution

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today spoke on the Senate floor to urge his colleagues to support an effort to override President Trump’s veto of S.J. Res. 68, a bipartisan joint resolution demanding the removal of U.S. troops from hostilities against Iran that are not authorized by Congress.

“We have the responsibility to ensure that the Executive is effectively deploying every diplomatic tool it can before rushing recklessly into battle, particularly one without clearly defined outcomes or clarity of purpose,” the Senator said. “I don’t think there is any question about Iran’s malign activity. And, more to the point of the legislation at hand, I shed no tears for Qassem Soleimani, who left a legacy of terrorism, bloodshed, and American deaths. However, this body has a Constitutional responsibility and prerogative to declare war. To make the decision about whether or not to send our sons and daughters into battlefields.”

A copy of the Senator’s full speech as delivered can be found below:

“I rise to override the President’s veto of S.J. Res. 68, which requires the removal of U.S. troops from hostilities against Iran that Congress may not have authorized.  

It seems like ages ago that we were truly on the brink of a potentially devastating, costly, and unnecessary war against Iran. But it was actually just a few months ago.

Now make no mistake – even as Iranians have suffered the worst outbreak of COVID-19 in the Middle East – we’ve witnessed Iran continue its support for terrorism, harassment of American naval vessels, and general malfeasance throughout the region. Indeed, it now seems that Iran may be principally responsible for driving the spread of COVID-19 throughout the region.

I don’t think there is any question about Iran’s malign activity. And, more to the point of the legislation at hand, I shed no tears for Qassem Soleimani, who left a legacy of terrorism, bloodshed, and American deaths. However, this body has a Constitutional responsibility and prerogative to declare war. To make the decision about whether or not to send our sons and daughters into battlefields.

And we have the responsibility to ensure that the Executive is effectively deploying every diplomatic tool it can before rushing recklessly into battle, particularly one without clearly defined outcomes or clarity of purpose. We must exercise our check over the Executive, particularly when it comes to the life and death of Americans.

Yet, this Administration continues to test the strength of our system of checks and balances. We saw it with its strike against Soleimani. Then it played out several times last year regarding congressional prerogatives on arms sales.

This is not the first time the President has faced a vote to override his veto. Last year the House and the Senate made overwhelmingly clear that we had concerns about sales of certain weapons to Saudi Arabia following its disastrous campaign in Yemen and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. As the Administration seeks to sell more weapons overseas, the Congress will continue to assert our prerogative when it comes to foreign policy and war-making.

So, as I did earlier this year, I stand in strong support of S.J. Res. 68. This body must assert its constitutional and congressional prerogative. Of course the President has the right to take action to defend against imminent threats to the homeland and to Americans abroad. No one disputes that. No one.

And while the President has the right to take action to protect Americans from truly imminent threats and dangers, and we must stand in support of our allies and partners, it is our responsibility to ensure that he is taking the right actions to protect Americans and our interests. The President does not have the authority to undertake any kind of military action he likes, nor does he have the prerogative to sell weapons to any country he likes absent congressional consultation and approval. 

 

Unfortunately, as has become a pattern with this Administration, the legal rationale it has offered for these attacks stretches the bounds of credulity. Following a number of briefings from the Administration, I found no compelling evidence as to what the imminent threat was or clear and present danger to Americans.

In fact, following the death of Soleimani, we saw even more attacks on American assets and interests. Just a few weeks ago, Iran was harassing our ships in the Arabian Gulf. Iran also claims to have launched a military satellite into orbit. It does not sound like the Administration’s actions have meaningfully “restored deterrence” of any kind against Iranian malign activity.

Additionally, let me reiterate that the idea that somehow the Administration has the authority under the 2002 AUMF to attack Soleimani simply because he was in Iraq is completely ludicrous. As someone who voted against the war in Iraq when I was in the House of Representatives, during the debate over whether to authorize military action, I can assure you that was NOT the intention of the 2002 authorization of the use of military force, and it does not comport with the history, the use, or a plain reading of the text. 

So, colleagues, I urge you to stand up for our congressional prerogatives, our congressional responsibilities, our constitutional responsibilities to make clear to the President that we are a co-equal branch of government that will hold the Executive accountable. 

I want to thank Senator Kaine for his dedication to this issue and to defending our Constitutional rights.

With that, Madam President, I yield back.

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