/Senate leaders clinch deal on Iran war vote

Senate leaders clinch deal on Iran war vote

Mitch McConnell

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that he would be willing to hold a vote on an amendment that would require congressional approval before any military funds could go toward conflict with Iran. | Tom Brenner/Getty Images

Senate Republican and Democratic leaders on Wednesday reached a deal to hold a debate on Iran this week, clearing the way for passage of a major defense policy bill before the July Fourth recess begins.

Senate Democrats had threatened in recent days to hold up the must-pass defense bill if they didn’t get a vote on an amendment from Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) that would require congressional approval before any military funds could go toward a conflict with Iran.

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In response, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that he would allow for a vote on the amendment Friday. The vote, he said, would be open all day Friday to accommodate members’ schedules. If the amendment is adopted, it would be added to the National Defense Authorization Act retroactively. A vote on passage of the defense bill is expected to take place on Thursday.

“Obviously, I believe the Udall amendment can and should be defeated,” McConnell said. “We should put this issue to rest, before we break for the Fourth of July recess.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) thanked McConnell, calling the vote on the proposal “only fair and only right” amid growing tensions with Tehran.

“If there is ever a time to rise to our constitutional obligation to debate and approve going to war, it’s now,” Schumer told reporters after the agreement was announced. “We asked that the timing of the vote be at the time that senators can make it, so that’s happening as well. We’re very pleased with the outcome.”

But Schumer said the amendment’s ultimate passage is “up to the Republicans.”

The agreement comes one day after Senate Democrats had a lengthy discussion in their caucus over whether to block the defense bill from moving forward.

Schumer told Democrats that McConnell was the only roadblock to getting the vote and recalled that in 2005, Democrats and Republicans blocked the annual defense bill from moving forward over the Bush administration’s use of torture, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the meetings. The aide said Democrats had the support needed after the meeting to credibly threaten blocking the defense bill if McConnell did not hold a vote on the Udall amendment.

McConnell called off procedural votes on the defense bill Wednesday until a time to be determined. The agreement also allows Democrats who were hesitant about derailing the defense policy bill a way out.

It was unclear earlier Wednesday whether Senate Democrats would get their vote on Iran.

Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said Schumer had previously expressed interest in holding votes on the Udall amendment and defense bill, as well as an emergency border spending package, on Friday to allow Democratic primary candidates to return.

Not everyone was happy to accommodate the schedules of the 2020 candidates. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) voiced frustration that the defense policy bill was being held prior to the deal’s announcement.

“We’re tired of waiting around,” Inhofe said. “It’s silly to say that we can’t do anything, that we have to stop the most important bill of the year to take care of people who are running for president.”

While the Udall amendment also has support from Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, Senate Republicans are skeptical it has the votes necessary to pass and see little harm in bringing it to the floor.

“We’re happy to vote on it because we think we can beat it,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).