Trump, Democrats set for brawl on Iran war powers

Democrats are set for a clash with President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump's newest Russia adviser, Andrew Peek, leaves post: report Hawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Trump rips New York City sea wall: 'Costly, foolish' and 'environmentally unfriendly idea' MORE over war powers and Iran. 

House Democrats will vote Thursday on a war powers resolution that would rein in Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran without congressional signoff, a culmination of days of frustration on Capitol Hill with the administration’s strategy. 

The vote comes as both Trump and Iranian officials signaled that they were trying to ratchet down tensions inflamed with the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Iran responded with a missile attack Tuesday on two Iraqi bases that house U.S. troops.

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Democrats emerged from back-to-back closed-door briefings on Iran voicing deep frustration about what Trump’s plan is moving forward. 

A quartet of top administration officials — Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request Senate Dems urge Esper to oppose shifting Pentagon money to border wall Overnight Defense: GAO finds administration broke law by withholding Ukraine aid | Senate opens Trump trial | Pentagon to resume training Saudi students soon MORE, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoSunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for Senate impeachment trial Parnas pressure grows on Senate GOP Dems plan marathon prep for Senate trial, wary of Trump trying to 'game' the process MORE, CIA Director Gina HaspelGina Cheri HaspelSchiff schedules public hearing with US intel chief  Senate Democrat says he is concerned intelligence community is 'bending' Soleimani presentations House chairman: Pompeo won't testify at Iran hearing Tuesday MORE and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley — were dispatched to brief both the House and Senate on Wednesday amid days of concerns from lawmakers that Trump was on a path to war with Iran. 

“Members of Congress have serious, urgent concerns about the administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran and about its lack of strategy moving forward. Our concerns were not addressed by the president’s insufficient War Powers Act notification and by the administration’s briefing today,” House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiREAD: House impeachment managers' trial brief Desperate Democrats badmouth economy even as it booms Pelosi offers message to Trump on Bill Maher show: 'You are impeached forever' MORE (D-Calif.) said in announcing the vote.

The House resolution would force Trump to end hostilities against Iran unless Congress authorizes a war or the action is to thwart an imminent threat. The administration has justified the strike that killed Soleimani by saying it was needed to prevent an “imminent” threat. 

Democrats were widely unsatisfied by the intelligence provided during the briefing, which Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyTrump, Democrats set for brawl on Iran war powers Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers Democrats 'utterly unpersuaded' by evidence behind Soleimani strike MORE (D-Va.) called “sophomoric and utterly unconvincing.”

“I believe there was no rationale that could pass a graduate school thesis test,” he said. “I was utterly unpersuaded about any evidence about the imminence of a threat that was new or compelling.” 

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Asked about whether she was convinced of an imminent threat, presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenThe Memo: Sanders-Warren battle could reshape Democratic primary Environmental activists interrupt Buttigieg in New Hampshire Pence to visit Iowa days before caucuses MORE (D-Mass.) said flatly “no,” without elaborating.

“I have already said I don’t think the U.S. is any safer after killing Soleimani. In fact, I think the U.S. is much closer to war. Donald Trump has put this country at risk. This was a Trump-made crisis,” Warren told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Thursday’s vote is unlikely to be the last clash on the issue.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump administration installs plaque marking finish of 100 miles of border wall Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate implications MORE (D-N.Y.) has asked for a second Iran briefing with the same administration officials within a week. He noted that only 15 senators were able to ask questions Wednesday. 

“As the questions began to get tough, they walked out,” he said. 

Pelosi said the House is considering additional legislation, including a repeal of the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) and legislation to block the administration from using funding to carry out military activities against Iran. The 2002 AUMF authorized the Iraq War and has been cited by the administration as part of its legal justification for the Soleimani strike.

A Senate war powers vote is expected as soon as next week, on a resolution from Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineIran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner House war powers sponsor expects to take up Senate version of resolution Sens. Kaine, Lee: 'We should not be at war with Iran unless Congress authorizes it' MORE (D-Va.) that would make Trump withdraw U.S. troops from hostilities against Iran within 30 days unless there was an “imminent” threat.

Kaine said Wednesday that he is continuing to gather support for his measure, saying he is talking to colleagues about any “adjustments” they would like to see. 

In a blow to the administration, Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenators are politicians, not jurors — they should act like it Sens. Kaine, Lee: 'We should not be at war with Iran unless Congress authorizes it' Overnight Defense: War powers fight runs into impeachment | Kaine has 51 votes for Iran resolution | Trump plans to divert .2B from Pentagon to border wall MORE (R-Utah) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP threatens to weaponize impeachment witnesses amid standoff Paul predicts no Republicans will vote to convict Trump Graham on impeachment trial: 'End this crap as quickly as possible' MORE (R-Ky.) both announced after the Senate’s closed-door briefing that they will support Kaine’s proposal.

To pass the Senate, and spark a veto showdown with Trump, Democrats need four Republicans to get the 51 votes to initially pass the war powers resolution.

Lee, Paul and Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsRepublicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump beefs up impeachment defense with Dershowitz, Starr The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial MORE (R-Maine) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranOvernight Defense: War powers fight runs into impeachment | Kaine has 51 votes for Iran resolution | Trump plans to divert .2B from Pentagon to border wall War powers fight in Senate runs squarely into impeachment Third GOP senator says he'll support Iran war powers resolution MORE (R-Kan.) previously supported a similar resolution from Kaine and Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Defense: Foreign policy takes center stage at Democratic debate | House delivers impeachment articles to Senate | Dems vow to force new vote on Trump's border wall Democrats vow to force third vote on Trump's border wall emergency declaration Overnight Defense: War powers fight runs into impeachment | Kaine has 51 votes for Iran resolution | Trump plans to divert .2B from Pentagon to border wall MORE (D-N.M.). Before the briefing, Lee’s spokesman had said he would oppose Kaine’s new measure and Paul had been undecided. 

Lee characterized the meeting with the administration as “the worst briefing I’ve seen, at least on a military issue,” and said officials warned that Congress would “embolden” Iran if lawmakers debated Trump’s war powers. 

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“I find this insulting and demeaning ... to the office that each of the 100 senators in this building happens to hold. I find it insulting and demeaning to the Constitution of the United States,” Lee said, adding that the administration’s logic was “insane.”

Lee said he was undecided on Kaine’s proposal before the briefing but that he was now prepared to support it “specifically because of what happened in that briefing.”

Paul added that he would also back Kaine’s measure, questioning the administration’s decision to use the 2002 AUMF.

“I see no way in the world you could logically argue that an authorization to have war with Saddam Hussein has anything to with having war with people currently in Iraq,” Paul told reporters, adding that using the 2002 AUMF to cover the Soleimani strike was “absurd” and an “insult.”

The new momentum for Democrats came even as Trump, and many of his GOP allies, claimed victory after both Washington and Tehran tried to ramp down tensions.

Trump, speaking from the White House on Wednesday morning, appeared to take a victory lap, characterizing Iran as “standing down” and noting that no Americans were killed by the missile attack against Iraqi bases that house U.S. personnel.

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He was quickly backed up by Republicans on Capitol Hill — some of whom had publicly warned against Trump escalating tensions — as they declared that Trump’s strike against Soleimani successfully deterred Iran from more provocative attacks.

“Based on the president’s speech today and certainly based on the intelligence … I would say that I’m optimistic that we can look at a de-escalating environment,” Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsRepublicans criticize Pelosi for gifting pens used to sign impeachment articles Trump, Democrats set for brawl on Iran war powers Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers MORE (R-N.C.), a top ally of President Trump’s, told reporters. “It’s a good day for America.” 

Asked if Trump was trying to de-escalate, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenators take oath for impeachment trial Trump, Democrats set for brawl on Iran war powers Senators see off-ramp from Iran tensions after Trump remarks MORE (R-Okla.) said “he’s done it with the cooperation” of the Iranians, pointing to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“Both of them are saying they want to negotiate,” Inhofe said. “The door is open.”