Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, are calling on the White House to declassify the secret war powers notification it sent Congress over the weekend.
President Trump sent the notice well after Thursday night's deadly drone strike in Baghdad against Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani. President Trump has claimed publicly that Soleimani was plotting imminent attacks on Americans, but conflicting justifications and estimations of the Quds Force leader's threat to U.S. interests have emerged from the administration.
Trump classified the notification to Congress, however. It has been described in press reports, such as in a Politico story, as not particularly long or useful.
Schumer and Menendez told Trump in a letter that the American people deserve to see it.
"We write to request and urge you to immediately declassify in full the January 4, 2020 war powers notification you submitted to Congress following the U.S. military operation targeting Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani.
It is critical that national security matters of such import be shared with the American people in a timely manner. An entirely classified notification is simply not appropriate in a democratic society, and there appears to be no legitimate justification for classifying this notification."
The War Powers Act requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours if he takes actions that thrust U.S. forces “into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances.” It also says that "in every possible instance" the president "shall consult with Congress before introducing" U.S. forces into such circumstances. Trump did not consult Congress ahead of time.
Under the law, Trump has 60 days to begin extricating troops from any actions related to his strike. In theory, the law requires Congress to approve any extended conflict with Iran.
Presidents have never been strong backers of the War Powers Act. President Nixon vetoed it before Congress overrode him in 1973. And even with the act in force, presidents since George W. Bush have skirted it by using the authorizations passed in 2001 and 2002 -- to strike at Al Qaeda and then Iraq -- to also carry out military actions in numerous other theaters.
Bipartisan support to check the executive branch's war-making has grown steadily in recent recent years, but it has not gathered sufficient backing in the Senate for Congress to act.
Speaking on the Senate floor in the afternoon, Schumer repeated his call for transparency and accused Trump of running a "chaotic and rudderless foreign policy" that are characterized "by erratic, impulsive, and often egotistical behavior, with little regard to a long-term strategy that would advance the interests of the United States."
He argued that the administration has failed to answer key questions about the Soleimani strike including:
"Iran has many dangerous surrogates in the region and a whole range of possible responses. Which response do we expect? Which are the most likely? What do we know about what Iran would plan to do in retaliation?"
"And then, what are our plans to counter all of these responses? And how effective does our military, does our CIA, does our state department think these responses will be?"
"What does this action mean for the long-term stability of Iraq? What does it mean to our presence in Iraq? And what does it mean to the trillions of dollars – trillions! - and thousands of American lives sacrificed there? How does what we’re doing now fit into that?"
"How does the Administration plan to manage any escalation of the hostilities? And how does the Administration plan to avoid a larger and potentially endless conflagration in the Middle East?"
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell argued instead for lawmakers to wait for a briefing from the administration, which he said would come Wednesday, led by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, Secretary of State MIke Pompeo, and CIA Director Gina Haspel.
He suggested Democrats' concerns were primarily partisan when they should be treating the situation with seriousness.
"Unfortunately, seriousness is in short supply lately from the determined critics of President Trump. And our nation is worse for it," McConnell said.