Congress

Sanders says he wouldn’t pull troops from Iraq via tweet

Vermont senator unveils effort to block war with Iran

From left, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., participate in a press conference in the Capitol to unveil the No War Against Iran Act on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont wants U.S. troops home from Iraq. But in a clear jab at President Donald Trump’s foreign policy approach, he said he wouldn’t do it with a tweet.

Sanders’ appearance at a press conference Thursday to push legislation blocking war with Iran is the latest indicator that the impeachment trial isn’t the only thing that can lure Democratic presidential hopefuls off the campaign trail and back to the Senate.

Senators seeking the Democratic presidential nomination were also back on Capitol Hill for Wednesday afternoon’s classified briefing on Trump’s order for the targeted killing last week of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq.

Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts came back to D.C. for the all-senators briefing that seemed to yield more questions than answers for many lawmakers.

On Thursday, Sanders, who also attended the Wednesday briefing, headlined the unveiling of legislation with California Rep. Ro Khanna and other Democrats that would bar funding for military action against Iran except in cases of self-defense of American interests or in compliance with the restrictions of the War Powers Resolution.

Sanders reiterated his longstanding opposition to U.S. military engagements in Iraq dating back to the first Gulf War, but he made clear that if elected president he would not be seeking a precipitous or unplanned withdrawal from the country.

“I will do my best as president to bring our troops home as soon as possible, but I will not do it through a tweet,” Sanders said. “I will not do it by creating a situation where we get kicked out of the country, but what we need to do is work with the government of Iraq, work with other allies in the region.”

Sanders is the Senate lead on one of the pieces of legislation currently moving in the House seeking to curtail the president’s powers when it comes to military action against Iran.

“Just as we were led into Vietnam and Iraq by lies, the Trump administration is misleading us on Iran,” Sanders said. “They are justifying the assassination of Qassem Soleimani by claiming that he was planning imminent attacks on hundreds of Americans in the region, and yet they produce no evidence that would justify this claim, not even in a classified setting.”

“Our founding fathers understood that it was only too easy for a president to lead the country into a disastrous military conflict. That is why they gave the exclusive power over war and peace to the people’s elected representatives,” Sanders said.

The House is making plans to take up the companion version of the Sanders bill, introduced by Khanna, along with legislation from Rep. Barbara Lee of California to revoke the 2002 authorization for use of force against Iraq.

The first step for the Senate is a concurrent resolution under the War Powers Act that also seeks to limit the president’s actions against Iran. The reach of such a resolution would be an unresolved matter of legal interpretation.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi took the position Tuesday that the House resolution has “real teeth.”

“We’re taking this path because it does not require a signature of the president of the United States,“ the California Democrat said. 

The War Powers Resolution is a statement of Congress, Pelosi said. “And I will not have this statement be diminished by whether the president would veto or not.”

Concurrent resolutions do not go to the president.

A similar Senate measure introduced by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., that could reach the floor as soon as next week is a joint resolution, meaning it could go to the president’s desk — likely for a veto.

Lee and other House members standing alongside Sanders on Thursday amplified concerns that the Trump administration may be using the 2002 authorization for use of military force against Iraq to go after Iran on Iraqi soil.

“Even then, as flawed as the 2002 authorization finally was, it was never intended or written to authorize future actions against a country that had personnel in Iraq, neither was the 2001 blank check,” Lee said Thursday. “This administration has falsely claimed that the 2002 AUMF can be used as the congressional authorization to attack Iran. That’s completely outrageous.”

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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