U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden said President Donald Trump's order that resulted in the killing of a top Iranian general may finally prod a divided Congress to restrain Trump from starting a war with Iran.
The Oregon Democrat drew a standing ovation Sunday, Jan. 5, at Tigard High School when he said it's time for Congress to invoke the War Powers Act. The 1973 law is intended to check a president's authority to go to war without congressional consent — although it has not stopped presidents of both parties from deploying troops around the world.
"If Oregonians want that law enforced, I am going to pull out all the stops to do it," he said to applause from the audience of 400 at a town hall meeting.
Wyden prefaced his response to a question about the killing by describing an encounter with a woman after a town hall the previous day in Monmouth, in an Oregon county that sided with Trump in the 2016 election. The woman told him her son was stationed in Kuwait — not far from Iraq — and was due for a return to the United States in less than two weeks.
"She put her hands on me and said: Is my boy going to be OK?" Wyden said.
"So this is not an abstract thing, where you go back to Washington, wear a blue suit and red tie, and given a bunch of windy speeches. This mom is just scared of how reckless decisions overseas could harm her son, who is slated to be back with loved ones quickly.
"I consider it a top priority to get that mom and get Oregonians some answers. Period."
Wyden said afterward, "I am never going to forget her face."
Wyden was on the losing side of a 2002 congressional vote that authorized U.S. military force against Iraq, though 23 senators and 133 representatives opposed it. He likened it to the 1964 congressional vote for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which President Lyndon B. Johnson then invoked to commit U.S. troops to fight in the Vietnam War. Oregon Sen. Wayne Morse, whose seat Wyden now holds, was one of only two members to oppose it.
Six months ago, Wyden was among the 50 senators — all but four were Democrats or who line up with Democrats — who voted for an amendment to a must-pass defense legislation to require congressional approval for a war with Iran. But the move failed because it did not reach the needed 60-vote majority.
What has changed this time, Wyden said, was Trump's order targeting Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who died with others Friday when a U.S. drone struck them at the airport in Baghdad, Iraq.
Iran has said it no longer will abide by the 2015 agreement, which Trump pulled the United States out of in 2018, intended to limit its nuclear-weapons development.
Iran has vowed retaliation — and Trump says he has ordered 52 Iranian sites targeted, one for each of the U.S. Embassy hostages held by Iran more than 40 years ago, if Iran does act. "Soleimani has blood on his hands. Saddam Hussein (former Iraqi dictator) was a bad guy, too. But this is about protecting the strategic interests of this country," said Wyden, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
"I understand what this is about. I will say it bluntly: This is an effort to portray those who ask the tough questions … as somehow soft on terrorism. I do not take a back seat to anybody on fighting terrorism."
Wyden said he was uneasy about Trump's reference to targeting cultural sites.
"That would be an abomination," he said. "That would in effect put us on the level of the Taliban in Afghanistan. I have confidence that our military commanders would be unwilling to carry out that kind of order."
Wyden didn't elaborate, but he was referring to the Taliban dynamiting two 6th-century statues of Buddha — designated as a World Heritage Site — in March 2001.
Afterward, Wyden said questions about U.S. tensions with Iran have come up at town hall meetings along with domestic questions such as health care, immigration and the pending Senate trial of Trump, who was impeached by the House in December.
"It illustrates that Oregonians are deeply concerned about both kitchen-table issues and America's place in the world," he said.
Counting a mid-afternoon meeting at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Wyden has conducted 964 town hall meetings since he was elected in January 1996, when he pledged to have one in each of Oregon's 36 counties annually.
On other issues, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden spoke Sunday at a town hall meeting in Tigard:
• He will continue to push for a bipartisan Senate proposal to check prescription drug prices, including a requirement for drug-makers to contribute excess amounts to the Medicare fund if their increases exceed inflation, and an annual cap of $3,100 on out-of-pocket costs for enrollees under Medicare Part D prescription coverage. Although backed by Wyden and Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the leaders of the Senate Finance Committee, the bill faces an uncertain future in a Senate vote.
"This is not everything that needs to be done," Wyden said. "But I tell you this sends a big message."
Their bill omits authority for the federal government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare. The House has passed such a bill, but Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is blocking it.
• If the Supreme Court does away with the Affordable Care Act and its guarantee of insurance coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions, "I want Oregon to know that I will fight that with every ounce of my strength."
A federal appeals court has overturned the 2010 law's requirement for all people to obtain insurance, known as the "individual mandate," after Republican majorities did away with tax penalties in the 2017 federal tax overhaul that Wyden and Democrats opposed. But the appeals court was silent about other provisions and sent the case back to a district court for further review.
• Witnesses are essential if a Senate impeachment trial of Trump is to proceed. Wyden said he was not wedded to who should be summoned or how they should present their testimony. In the 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton — the Senate failed to muster even a simple majority on either count against him — Senate leaders finally agreed on three witnesses whose depositions were taken on videotape, and only portions of which were shown.
Wyden said what impressed him during the 2019 House impeachment hearings was the testimony from career diplomats and military and national security people, who had worked under presidents of both parties, about Trump's attempts to leverage military aid to Ukraine for investigations of his potential 2020 rival Joe Biden.
"When those witnesses came forward and talked about what they saw and heard, I said I do not see how you can do this without witnesses."
— Peter Wong
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