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Senate To Vote On Measure Regarding President Trump's War Authority


Here in Washington this afternoon, the Senate approved its annual defense authorization bill with a clear majority. And yet senators will be back tomorrow to vote on a significant bipartisan amendment to the just-passed bill. It would bar President Trump from going to war with Iran without prior congressional approval. NPR's David Welna explains what's going on.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Senate Democrats worked hard to get a vote on the Iran amendment, and they'll need the votes of all four Senators - Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Michael Bennet - who are in Miami today for tonight's presidential debate. So even though the Senate is raring to get out of town for its Fourth of July recess, Democrats insisted the vote on the amendment be held tomorrow when the debaters can be back in town. That bothered the Senate's No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn of Texas.


JOHN CORNYN: I see no reason for us to delay the vote on the defense authorization bill for those folks who've chosen instead do not do their job here but rather to run for president.

WELNA: But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, calling it a rather bizarre situation, realized Democrats could hold up the defense bill if they did not get their way. Here's McConnell speaking to reporters this afternoon.


MITCH MCCONNELL: So I decided to accommodate that, which was not wildly enthusiastically greeted on my side.

WELNA: Voting begins as early as 5 in the morning. When it ends depends on flights from Miami. Should the amendment pass, it would be added retroactively to the defense bill. New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall is the measure's chief sponsor.


TOM UDALL: I rise today to call upon this body to do its duty, to assume its constitutional responsibility and to make it clear that the president cannot wage war against Iran without congressional authorization.

WELNA: The amendment says no funds will be spent to conduct hostilities against Iran without congressional authorization unless it's in self-defense. Utah Republican Mike Lee is one of the co-sponsors.


MIKE LEE: Article I Section 8 of the Constitution unequivocally states that Congress shall have the power to declare war - Congress, not the president, not the Pentagon, not someone else in the executive branch but Congress.

WELNA: Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton disagreed.


TOM COTTON: This amendment purports to tie the commanders in chief's hands relative only to a single nation, which just so happens to be the nation that just shot down an American aircraft.

WELNA: It's not clear the amendment will pass, but Democrats think it's close enough to hold out for the return of four senators from Miami. David Welna, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.