Senate Democrats are weighing whether to filibuster the annual defense policy bill that is on the floor this week to try to force a vote on an amendment that would require President Donald Trump to get congressional approval before launching war with Iran.
Democratic aides and senators say a determination hasn’t been made whether to carry out the contentious move that would block that National Defense Authorization Act, legislation that typically wins broad bipartisan support.
The decision is politically fraught for Democrats because they could be accused of playing politics with a major national security bill that includes a pay raise for service members.
But with tension at high levels with Iran — and a military strike by the US called off at the last minute — Democrats are anxious to vote on language that would prohibit funds from being used for military action against Iran without explicit approval from Congress.
“We were 10 minutes from the President launching an attack that could have sent us spiraling into another war in the Middle East, this time illegally, without any authorization from Congress,” said Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, who was one of six Democrats voting Monday against beginning debate on the NDAA. “The Senate cannot duck this vote, and Majority Leader (Mitch) McConnell should honor his commitment to an open amendment process. We cannot do our constitutional duty without one.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, opposes taking up the amendment.
“You got to keep mind, Iran, they’re a bunch of terrorists and they hate us. And we’re at war with them,” he said, arguing Trump already has the authority he needs to use military force against Iran.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged McConnell to delay action on the NDAA beyond this week because the several Democratic senators running for president will be away at the first presidential debate and there is not an urgent need to pass the bill now.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas scoffed at that notion.
“I think that is a bad idea,” he said. “Because they don’t show up to work? Give me a break.”
Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said it’s important the Senate “express itself” on going to war.
“It is an urgent issue. When we are talking about men and women in harm’s way, Congress has that fundamental responsibility. So, this is our opportunity to have a vote,” he said stopping short of saying if he would vote to filibuster.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second-ranking Republican, said it would be bad if Democrats “hijacked” the defense bill
“I hope they don’t do that,” Thune said. “We need to get the NDAA done. It would send the wrong message if they try to hold it up over that.”
It’s unclear how the matter will play out. Republicans are also trying to get Democratic cooperation on a border funding bill that they want to take up Tuesday and other action they want to take before leaving for the Fourth of July recess at the end of the week.
Doing so will require consent from Democrats, something that could give them leverage in decisions on NDAA.
The parties are scheduled to hold their respective policy lunches Tuesday where these and other issues will be hashed out.