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An elite Iranian general is dead, and the United States and Iran appear even closer to conflict. In Washington, members of Congress had mixed reactions to the killing of Qassem Soleimani. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss why he believes President Trump should have consulted Congress before the strike.
Members of Congress were quick to respond to the news of Soleimani's death, and their reactions were mixed.
A short time ago, I spoke with two key members of the Senate, first Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia. He serves on both the Foreign Relations and the Armed Services committees.
Senator Tim Kaine, thank you very much for joining us.
What about the killing of General Soleimani? Was this the right thing to do?
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.:
Well, look, I think the president, President Trump, has pushed the United States essentially to the brink of an unnecessary war with Iran in the killing of General Soleimani.
Is he a despicable killer? Absolutely, he was. Is Iran a bad actor? Absolutely, it is, and it remains a bad actor.
But the question that we have to grapple with is, should the United States be engaged in a war with Iran? Should we get involved in another war in the Middle East?
And that's what President Trump has pushed us to with the maximum pressure campaign that he has announced that has involved diplomatic and economic and military pressure against Iran.
Sen. Tim Kaine:
And so, today, I filed a resolution to force the debate onto the floor of the Senate, so that the Senate can weigh in, because whatever you think about whether the U.S. should be at war with Iran or not, that decision should be made by Congress, not by a president acting on his own.
Before I ask you about that resolution, though, what about the administration argument that this was a necessary move because General Soleimani, what he represented was an imminent threat, he was planning more attacks, he had already been responsible for the deaths of many Americans, and was plotting more?
That is what the administration says, Judy. They have not briefed Congress on that.
The leader of the House and the Democratic leader of the Senate were not briefed about it. They were told after they read about the attack in the newspaper.
And the Constitution makes very, very plain that, if we're going to be engaged in a war, it should be Congress making that decision, not the president doing it on his own.
So, now the president has brought us to the brink of hostilities, our embassy being invaded, an American contractor being killed. The president tore up a diplomatic deal with Iran. The president ordered this strike on his own, without briefing key congressional leaders.
It's time for this president to not just act on his own, but to do what the Constitution says, and let's have a debate about whether the U.S. should be engaged in war with Iran or not. There may be some who believe we should. I happen to believe that that war would be unnecessary at this point, but let's at least have a debate in front of the American public and actually have a vote on it.
What are you concerned about in terms of an Iranian response right now, Senator?
Beginning last October, Judy, October of 2018, the Pentagon started to warn the president that the actions that the president was ordering, diplomatic, economic and military, were raising the threat of retaliation against the United States.
The Defense Department has warned the president of this now for well over a year. And their warnings have proven correct.
So when the U.S. takes actions, in airstrikes that kill 25 Iranians last week, obviously, that raised the threat level. When the U.S. takes action against Soleimani, again, a despicable killer, but when that action is taken, it raises the threat level for Americans.
The embassy is closed now. The U.S. is telling Americans to get out of the country of Iraq. And, as you know, if the U.S. presence dwindles in Iraq, what that means is that Iran gets more and more powerful in Iraq.
By taking military strikes in Iraq over the objections of the Iraqi government, we are pushing Iraq more and more into Iran's hands, and we're also pushing our adversaries Iran, Russia and China, closer and closer together.
I know you are aware, as I was, that those nations did joint naval exercises last week. We're hurting our allies. We're pushing our adversaries closer together. And that's because the president acts on his own, without meaningfully engaging in Congress, especially on this matter of war.
And, Senator, are you saying with this resolution that Congress would have to authorize any military action against Iran?
What my resolution makes plain — and it's a resolution that's filed in connection with the War Powers Act of 1974 — is that there would be just two routes for war against Iran, that Congress would authorize military action, either by an authorization or a declaration of war, or there would be a demonstrated imminent threat.
And the U.S. can always protect itself against a demonstrated imminent threat. But the notion the president can just say that without briefing Congress and engage in military strikes to of the kind that the U.S. has now been engaged in for some time, it's time to put this out on the table, explain the facts to the American public, and have an open discussion about whether we should be in another war in the Middle East.
I don't think that war is necessary right now. Some may disagree, but at least we shouldn't allow this president or any president — and, as you know, I said the same thing about President Obama as I'm saying about President Trump. Don't start with war without coming to Congress, submitting it for a debate and a vote that the American public can see.
Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, we thank you.
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