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Sen. Mike Lee votes to limit war with Iran despite Trump’s opposition

‘It is not about defying President Trump,’ Lee said. The president had urged senators to vote against the Iran War Powers resolution.

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Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, works with his staff to craft an amendment as the Senate advanced a bipartisan resolution asserting that President Donald Trump must seek approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee voted to approve the Iran War Powers resolution Thursday, while reaffirming his loyalty to President Donald Trump, who had asked senators to vote against it.

Lee became the sole member of Utah’s congressional delegation to vote to keep President Donald Trump from escalating the conflict in Iran with congressional oversight or approval.

Seven other Republican senators — along with all 45 Democrats and both independents — voted with Lee in the 55-45 vote. Sen. Mitt Romney was not one of them.

The resolution would still need to be passed by the House before reaching the president’s desk. It would take a two-thirds vote in both houses to override a presidential veto.

Lee: ‘It’s not about defying President Trump’

Lee was careful to point out his support of the senate’s joint resolution — sponsored by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia — was not to spite Trump, but to ensure that legislators were upholding their own constitutional powers.

“It is not about defying President Trump,” Lee said Wednesday before the vote. “Indeed, on this issue, Donald Trump is the most restrained and Constitution-minded commander in chief we have had in decades.”

“Rather, what this resolution is about is Congress reclaiming its rightful powers to restore accountability and consensus to this most grave of all policy decisions,” said Lee.

Romney: ‘I believe this resolution would undermine our deterrent capability’

Romney decided in January that he would vote against the resolution, citing the constraints it put on the president and that it would compromise deterrence.

“During this time of heightened tensions with Iran, I believe this resolution would undermine our deterrent capability and send the wrong message to Iran,” Romney said on Jan. 14, five days after the resolution was introduced in the Senate.

“A longstanding issue of debate” regarding the balance of legislative and executive war powers was needed, said Romney, “however, with American troops in harm’s way, now is not the proper time and this resolution is not the right approach.”

Asked for comment Thursday, Romney’s staff referred to the January statement.

Why the joint resolution?

The U.S. Constitution identifies the president as commander in chief while giving Congress the power to declare war.

In the wake of the Trump administration’s airstrike which killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad last month, and the retaliatory Iranian missile strike on American forces in Iraq which followed, Congress initiated resolutions in the House and Senate to ensure and reclaim their authority to declare war.

Thursday’s Senate joint resolution was clear to specify that Congress’ Authorization for Use of Military Force — AUMF’s — against “the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack” from 2001 and for military force in Iraq from 2002 did not “serve as a specific statuary authorization for the use of force against Iran.”

Utah’s representatives voted against a similar House resolution

Utah’s four U.S. House representatives voted “nay” against a similar, although nonbinding, resolution in the House in January, including Rep. Ben McAdams who voted across the aisle.

“The drone strike ordered by President Trump that killed Qassem Soleimani delivered justice to a murderous terrorist who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American service members,” said McAdams, the freshman Democrat from Utah’s 4th District.

“I refuse to play politics when the lives of American service members are on the line,” McAdams said after the vote on Jan. 9. He added, “At the same time, I firmly oppose any escalation of hostilities in the Middle East without a coherent and defined plan authorizing the use of military force.”

Trump: ‘Don’t let it happen!’

Trump tweeted Wednesday calling on senators to “not vote for the Iran War Powers Resolution.”

The president said the resolution was partisan and “Democrats are only doing this as an attempt to embarrass the Republican Party.”

“Don’t let it happen!” he tweeted.

Without a two-thirds majority, the White House will be able to successfully veto the resolution, as the president’s advisers recommended Wednesday.