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Lawmakers On Capitol Hill Consider: Impeachment, Iran General's Killing


The U.S. Congress has been consumed by one issue - the impeachment of the president. That was the case until Friday, when a decision by President Trump fundamentally changed geopolitics in the Middle East. A drone strike authorized by President Trump on an Iranian general - which didn't get congressional approval - has now led to turmoil throughout the region. The White House, this weekend, delivered a formal notification of the strike to Congress, which is required by the War Powers Act of 1973. But some of the president's opponents are not satisfied with that. Here's Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer talking on ABC's "This Week."


CHUCK SCHUMER: I really worry that the actions the president took will get us into what he calls another endless war in the Middle East. He promised we wouldn't have that, and I think we're closer to that now because of his actions.

MARTIN: NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis is with us. Good morning, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: We heard there from Senator Schumer. What's been the broader response from Democrats?

DAVIS: Well, it's increasingly confrontational. And Speaker Pelosi announced late last night that the House is going to vote this week on a resolution that would limit Trump's authority for further military action against Iran. The exact terms of the resolution aren't clear yet. They haven't released the text of it. But it's going to be sponsored by Michigan Democrat Elissa Slotkin. She's a freshman from a swing district, and she's a former analyst for the CIA.

It's likely this resolution will pass the House, but it's not likely it's going to become law. They probably don't have the votes in the Senate. And even if they did, it would need to be veto-proof 'cause it doesn't sound like something Donald Trump would sign into law. But it's a really pointed rebuke of the president's posture towards Iran, and it's likely going to escalate tensions between the president and Congress, too.

MARTIN: So where are Republicans on this?

DAVIS: Publicly, Republicans have been a lot more supportive of the president's decision to order the killing of Soleimani. But I think privately, there's much higher levels of reservation about additional military action against Iran - what that means, what is the strategy, what comes next. Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia has a companion resolution to that House resolution - but again, unlikely to have veto-proof margins of support for it. But this is going to be, politically, a really consequential vote. These are the kind of votes that tend to linger on a politician's record and obviously one that's going to be watched very closely for any breaks between the president and his party.

MARTIN: Right. So I do want to turn to impeachment because, as we noted, up until the Soleimani strike, this is the issue that has been preoccupying Congress - rightfully so. It's historic. But just get us up to speed on where we are now, you know, as we look into 2020 - as we start this new year.

DAVIS: Well, they continue to be in a stalemate. I think that could change pretty quickly this week as lawmakers are coming back into town from the Christmas - holiday break. And they're going to huddle Tuesday and Wednesday, early part of the week to determine the next steps. Speaker Pelosi hasn't shown us any hints on her thinking on when she's going to send over the articles of impeachment. That's the official act she has to take to trigger that Senate trial. She's trying to wait and see what the terms of the trial will be. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer haven't made any progress on getting closer to a deal on what the terms should be.

MARTIN: Is this still a debate over witnesses, no witnesses?

DAVIS: Yeah. I mean, Democrats essentially want an agreement on the front end to call four witnesses in the trial. The most notable ones are acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton. They're all witnesses who didn't comply with the House impeachment inquiry. Democrats say they could provide critical testimony in this trial. McConnell and Republicans rejected. He wants to follow a precedent set in the Clinton impeachment trial to start the trial and then figure out if they want to hear from any witnesses.

What's different in this scenario is that in the Clinton impeachment, they called witnesses who had already participated in the investigation, who had already testified under oath. In Trump's case, these are all witnesses who have defied Congress. And that's the argument Democrats are making to say, we need to hear from them now.

MARTIN: All right. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis for us. Thank you, Sue. We appreciate it.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.