Cotton Speaks on the Senate Floor in Opposition to War Powers Resolution
In the next few days, Senate Democrats will move to discharge a war powers resolution to tie the president's hands in defending this nation against Iran and terrorist masterminds like Qassam Soleimani. Let's think about how we got here and the implications of this reckless action.
Qassam Soleimani has the blood of thousands of Americans on his hands, and hundreds of thousands of innocent souls across the Middle East. For more than 20 years, he was the supreme leader's most trusted lieutenant, Iran's terror mastermind, the man responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan by supplying the most deadly kind of roadside bombs those soldiers ever faced. He and his proxies and Iranian leaders like him are responsible for bombings of our embassies in places like Lebanon and Kuwait. They're in no small part responsible for the ongoing horror of the Syrian civil war or the civil war in Yemen. And there is no doubt, there is no doubt based on the intelligence we have and his bloodthirsty past, that Qassam Soleimani was in Baghdad on January 2 to plot something very dangerous and very big that was going to target Americans once again.
We should all be thankful that Qassem Soleimani no longer walks the earth, and we should be proud of the troops who executed that mission. The world is a safer place and America is a safer nation because of it. And the people of Iran have been given a voice against the man that was responsible for mowing them down in protests over the years-and whose death they've just been out on the streets celebrating, even though they risk being mowed down by their own security forces once again.
Yet over the last two weeks, the Democrats have been able to do nothing but express their regret for the president's decision to eliminate Qassem Soleimani. And make no mistake, this war powers resolution is not about the future. It is about delivering an implicit, or if you listen to their words-and don't just read their resolution-an explicit rebuke to the president for ordering the killing of Qassem Soleimani. And they certainly want to prevent the president from doing anything like that in the future. That's why they've introduced this war powers resolution.
Now we should always remind ourselves when we're having a war powers debate, as we do from time to time, the war powers resolution is unconstitutional. It was passed by a liberal Congress in 1973 at the height of Watergate, and not a single president since then has acknowledged its constitutionality. Not a single one, to include all the Democrats.
I hear a lot about the Constitution these days and reclaiming our authority to declare war and to constrain the executive. I guess all those constitutional experts missed the Federalist Papers and its authoritative explanation of the Constitution and why we have the government we do.
We have a House of Representatives with 435 people to be the institution that's most closely tied to popular opinion. We have a Senate to act "as the cool and deliberate sense of the community." And we have a single president-a single president-to act on behalf of the entire nation at moments of peril. Federalist 70, if they would open up that authoritative explication of the Constitution, says why there is one person-not a council of two or three or four, as some of the states had at the time of the Founding-because of the division of opinion and perspective and temperament an executive council would have. One president, one president who can act, as Federalist 70 said, with "energy" and "dispatch." And, yes, on some occasions with "secrecy." So if the Founders didn't think we should have an executive council of three or four or five people, imagine what they would have thought about 535 commanders in chief, making operational decisions about when to take action on the battlefield.
These debates about war powers resolutions are really about how many lawyers and armchair rangers can dance on the head of a pin. Do you think that wars and battles are won with paper resolutions? Those wars and battles are won with iron resolution. Do you think the ayatollahs are intimidated by whereas clauses, joint resolutions? The ayatollahs are intimidated and deterred and scared when we incinerate their terror mastermind and we tell them we will do it again if they harm another American.
Now, even if you grant the war powers resolution is constitutional, look at the actual text of this resolution. It makes no exception for Iran developing a nuclear weapon. The ayatollahs could hold a press conference tomorrow, or the supreme leader could tweet they were going to rush to a nuclear breakout. It makes no exception for designated terrorist organizations and individuals like the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Quds Force that have killed so many Americans and continue to target them today. It makes no exception for attacks on our allies in the Middle East-for nations like Israel.
Now, the sponsors of this resolution will say it makes an exception for imminent attacks. We've seen what that gets us over the last couple of weeks: again, lawyers and armchair rangers arguing about the meaning of "imminence." Well, I've got to say whether an attack is imminent looks pretty different if you're a soldier on patrol in Iraq than if you're a comfortable senator sitting behind secure walls and armed guards.
None of this means that Congress has no role in matters of life and death on the battlefield. Very far from it, in fact. And I will take a back seat to no one to asserting that constitutional authority. I remind my colleagues that when we had an opportunity to insist that Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran be submitted to this chamber as a treaty, there was one senator that voted to insist on that. Only one: This guy. Ninety-eight other senators were perfectly willing to create some made-up, phony baloney procedure that allowed Barack Obama to submit a nuclear-arms agreement with a sworn and mortal enemy that chants "death to America" and put it into effect with a large majority opposed to him as opposed to the two-thirds majority that our Constitution requires for treaties.
So we do have a tremendous degree of constitutional authority in the Congress. We regulate interstate commerce, which makes sanctions. We nominate or we confirm ambassadors. We confirm the president's cabinet. We declare war, which we've only done a few times in our past despite hundreds of instances of introducing troops.
But most importantly-and the way to constrain the executive if this Congress thinks he should be constrained in a particular case-we have the spending power, in particular the spending power for our Armed Forces. That's the way the Congress, any Congress with any president, can control the use of the Armed Forces by the president. It's something this Congress has done a lot in the past. It did it in Vietnam, did it in Nicarauga, did it in Somalia.
There are plenty of times when the president has acted in some ways in a much more aggressive and far-reaching fashion than President Trump did just a couple of weeks ago: the First Taiwan Straits Crisis, Grenada in 1983, Libya in 1986, Iran in 1988. I would even say Libya again in 2011, although most of my Democratic colleagues like to send that down the memory hole since it was a Democratic president.
So I'd simply say if you disagree with the president's decision to kill the world's most sadistic, bloodthirsty terrorist mastermind, and you want to stop him from doing so again, file your bill to prohibit the use of any taxpayer funds for such operations. It's very simple. It's one page. I'll help you write it if you need help. One page: "No funds will be used to support operations by the Armed Forces against the government of Iran or any of its officials." Do it. Have the courage of your convictions.
Why are we not seeing that bill? Because it failed just last year. All of these same politicians offered language on our annual defense bill to try to prohibit the use of any funds in operations like we just saw, and it failed. We passed the defense bill as we always do by overwhelming majorities, which means they don't have the votes, because they know their position is not popular with the American people. Not surprisingly, the American people don't want their elected leaders to act as lawyers for the ayatollahs.
So if you're not going to act in what is our true constitutional power, spare us the unconstitutional and dangerous war powers resolutions and simply let the people who are serious about our national security-from the troops on up to the top-do what's necessary to keep this country safe.