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McConnell on US-Iran strategy: 'Let's not screw it up'

By MATTHEW DALY and LAURIE KELLMAN, AP

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he opposes a Senate resolution asserting that President Donald Trump must seek approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran.

McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said Monday that the Senate will “soon” debate a measure sponsored by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia. The measure, co-sponsored by two Republicans, would send the wrong message to U.S. allies after the Trump administration killed Iran's top general earlier this month, McConnell said.

Tehran responded to the U.S. attack by launching missiles at two military bases in Iraq that house American troops. No casualties were reported.

The “blunt instrument” of a war powers resolution is no substitute for "the studied oversight the Senate can exercise through hearings ... and more tailored legislation,'' McConnell said.

“We appear to have restored a measure of deterrence in the Middle East,” McConnell said in a speech opening the Senate for the week. “So let's not screw it up.”

His remarks came amid questions and fresh explanations from the Trump administration about why it ordered a Jan. 3 strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

The Democrat-controlled House passed a separate war powers resolution last week. The House measure is not binding on the president and does not require his signature. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nonetheless insisted it "has real teeth" because "it is a statement of the Congress of the United States."

McConnell did not offer a timeline for Senate debate, saying only that it would take up the war powers resolution “soon.” He mocked Democrats for questioning what “imminent” attacks the administration was preventing by killing Soleimani.

Trump did not consult with congressional leaders ahead of the attack that killed the Iranian general. Afterward. he sent Congress a notification explaining the rationale, but kept it classified. He said Friday that Iranian militants had planned major attacks on four U.S. embassies. Just hours earlier, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said the U.S. didn’t know when or where attacks might occur.

McConnell stepped past the administration's muddled explanations and noted that Democrats are now quibbling with what he called “career professionals" who advised Trump on the issue.

“I look forward to hearing our colleagues who want to quibble over the word ‘imminent’ explain just how close we should let the terrorists come to killing more Americans before we defend ourselves," McConnell said.

Kaine said late Monday that the bipartisan resolution “clearly states that America can always defend itself,'' but added: ”We don't think that this president — or any president — should send our troops into war without a vote of Congress.''

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the administration’s lack of transparency on Iran is "completely unacceptable.''

While Trump "has promised to keep us out of endless wars in the Middle East, his actions have moved us closer to exactly such a war — making the American people and American forces less safe,'' Schumer said Monday.

Two Republican senators, Mike Lee of Utah and and Rand Paul of Kentucky, have signed on as co-sponsors of Kaine's resolution, which also is co-sponsored by Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin.

Lee said a briefing last week by Pompeo and other officials on the Iran strike was “probably the worst briefing I've seen, at least on a military issue," in the nine years he's served in the Senate.

Paul also criticized the briefing as inadequate and said Congress should not abdicate its "duty under the Constitution to debate when we go to war.''

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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