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Iran Needs To Knock Off Bad Decisions, Sen. Tim Kaine Says


All right. For more on this story, we're going to turn to Democratic Senator Tim Kaine. He serves on the Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees.

Good morning, senator. Thanks for being here.

TIM KAINE: Glad to be with you guys. Thanks.

KING: So this situation has been escalating back and forth over the past couple of weeks. But in the past few hours, things really do seem to have shifted. Iran took a U.S. military aircraft out of the sky. How should the United States respond right now?

KAINE: Well, first, Iran needs to knock off bad decisions because it's very likely that this administration could overstep - likely without Congress, without debate - try to get into an unnecessary war with Iran. We shouldn't be in a war with Iran. And so Iran needs to knock it off.

But what we are being told by our own officials is that Iran's actions, including this most recent action - they're actions that are taken in response to the U.S.'s maximum pressure campaign. President Trump tore up a diplomatic deal with Iran a year ago and has been increasingly applying diplomatic, rhetorical, economic and military pressure against Iran. And when you do that, you escalate the risk of war - unnecessary war - and you make America less safe.

KING: You were at a closed-door briefing yesterday. I know you heard from officials from the State Department, defense, U.S. intelligence agencies. At that point yesterday, what was the assessment about the level of threat that Iran poses to the United States right now?

KAINE: You know, it was a classified briefing, and so I feel - I'm a little bit limited in what I say. But I think I can say this. The intelligence assessment is that the Iranian actions are all being taken in response to the U.S.'s maximum pressure campaign. So the goal should be to de-escalate the situation, to do what Pentagon officials like chairman of the Joint Chiefs Joe Dunford wants to do. And that means that the U.S. needs to start taking steps backwards.

Instead, we're deploying more troops, patriot missiles, aircraft carriers into the region, and we're supplying the Saudis with military technology, nuclear technology, bypassing Congress to give them weapons. And that is existentially of concern to Iran. They don't like the United States, and we don't like them. But who they really worry about is the Saudis, who are very, very close. And every time we give them more and more weapons and nuclear technology, that also escalates tension in the region.

So the U.S. needs to take some steps back. And if they do, we will de-escalate tension in the region and make our country in the region safer.

KING: Well, I wonder - do you anticipate that this morning's incident will have changed what you heard yesterday, or do you think that this is just all, again, part of the same tit for tat?

KAINE: Yeah. Look. It's all part of an escalating set of back and forth that began when President Trump blew up a diplomatic deal a year ago. If you walk away from diplomacy, you make war more likely. That's why I am on the Armed Services Committee with some colleagues, Democratic and Republican, proposing an amendment to the defense authorizing bill that's on the floor of the Senate right now to specify that this president cannot take the United States to war against Iran without coming to Congress first and having a debate and vote on that.

All the signs are - is that this president wants to act unilaterally. And that's why we're in this situation of escalating tension right now. If the president thinks that we ought to be at war with Iran, he ought to come to Congress and say so, make the case to us and the American public, and we should have a vote. But he shouldn't be conducting this maximum pressure escalation campaign on his own.

KING: You mentioned your legislation that would require the president to get approval from Congress. Do you think it's likely that it will pass? Is there a lot of support for that legislation?

KAINE: It's - we're going to see in the next couple of days. It is likely.


KAINE: It is likely to come up for vote early next week because the defense bill is on the floor right now, and we're working on amendments to the bill. And this is an amendment that would likely be voted on early next week. We have a strong feeling that we will get more than half of the Senate to say, Mr. President, don't do this on your own.

Sometimes amendments in the Senate require 60 votes, sometimes 50 votes. There's still some back and forth about that. But I do believe there is a majority of the Senate that will say to the president, we do not want you to think you can wage a war, especially an unnecessary one. There's no reason we should be in a war with Iran. We do not think you should wage a war on your own. Bring it to Congress, have a debate, let us vote with the American public watching us and holding us accountable.

KING: And in the 30 seconds we have left, do you think this administration has been laying the groundwork for war?


KING: You do.

KAINE: I think some in the administration - the president has sort of a natural isolationist tendency. And he told people in his campaign he wanted to get us out of wars in the Middle East. But there are people at the White House - not really in the Pentagon - people at the White House who are urging this president into a military confrontation with Iran, in my view, very, very unwisely.

KING: Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia.

Senator, thanks so much for being with us.

KAINE: Absolutely.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.