Trump, Democrats set for brawl on Iran war powers

Democrats are set for a clash with President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says inviting Russia to G7 'a question of common sense' Pentagon chief does not support invoking Insurrection Act Dershowitz: Does President Trump have power to declare martial law? 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 EsperPentagon chief does not support invoking Insurrection Act The Hill's Morning Report - Protesters' defiance met with calls to listen Pentagon moves 1,600 active-duty troops near DC as tensions escalate MORE, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe Hill's Morning Report - Protesters' defiance met with calls to listen Trump signs order directing State Dept., USAID to take action on global religious freedom Pompeo criticizes China on Tiananmen Square anniversary amid US protests MORE, CIA Director Gina HaspelGina Cheri HaspelObama's 'rule of law' hypocrisy Former CIA chief: Not 'right' for Haspel to applaud at State of the Union Schiff schedules public hearing with US intel chief  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 PelosiTrump congratulates Steve King challenger on GOP primary win The Hill's Morning Report - Protesters' defiance met with calls to listen Calls for police reform sparks divisions in Congress 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 ConnollyHouse committee chair requests immediate briefing on Secret Service's involvement in clearing protesters House Democrat demands answers from Secret Service about role breaking up White House protests Democrats to probe Trump's replacement of top Transportation Dept. watchdog 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 WarrenThe Hill's Morning Report - Protesters' defiance met with calls to listen Biden wins DC primary Warren asks Pentagon IG to probe military role in Trump's protest response 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 SchumerMcConnell blocks resolution condemning Trump over treatment of protesters House Democrat demands answers from Secret Service about role breaking up White House protests Pelosi, Schumer say treatment of protesters outside White House 'dishonors every value that faith teaches us' 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 KaineOvernight Defense: Trump's move to use military in US sparks backlash | Defense officials take heat | Air Force head calls Floyd's death 'a national tragedy' Pentagon: Esper, Milley 'not aware' of Trump's church photo-op ahead of time Democratic senator plans defense bill amendment to bar using troops against protesters 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 LeeHillicon Valley: Facebook employees speak up against content decisions | Trump's social media executive order on weak legal ground | Order divides conservatives The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US GOP deeply divided over Trump's social media crackdown MORE (R-Utah) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulDemocratic senator to offer amendment halting 'military weaponry' given to police Second senator tests positive for coronavirus antibodies Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks 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 CollinsTrump pushes back against GOP senators' criticism of dispersal of protesters in Lafayette Square: 'You got it wrong' Trump, Biden battle to shape opinion on scenes of unrest GOP senators dodge on treatment of White House protesters MORE (R-Maine) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranMemorial Day during COVID-19: How to aid our country's veterans Pass the Primary Care Enhancement Act Hillicon Valley: Facebook permanently shifting thousands of jobs to remote work | Congressional action on driverless cars hits speed bump during pandemic | Republicans grill TikTok over data privacy concerns MORE (R-Kan.) previously supported a similar resolution from Kaine and Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallDemocrat Teresa Leger Fernandez defeats Valerie Plame in New Mexico primary Republican Mark Ronchetti to face Rep. Ben Ray Lujan in New Mexico Senate race Key races to watch in Tuesday's primaries 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 MeadowsHouse Judiciary to hear whistleblowers on 'politicization' of Justice Dept under Trump How Trump cleared the park around the White House for church photo op Trump visits historic DC church after protesters cleared with tear gas 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 InhofeCalls for police reform sparks divisions in Congress Bipartisan Senate panel leaders back fund to deter China The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Major space launch today; Trump feuds with Twitter 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.”