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Trump, Democrats set for brawl on Iran war powers

Democrats are set for a clash with President TrumpDonald TrumpGuardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa wins GOP primary in NYC mayor's race Garland dismisses broad review of politicization of DOJ under Trump Schumer vows next steps after 'ridiculous,' 'awful' GOP election bill filibuster 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: Top admiral shoots back at criticism of 'woke' military | Military guns go missing | New White House strategy to battle domestic extremism Top admiral shoots back at criticism of 'woke' military: 'We are not weak' Cotton, Pentagon chief tangle over diversity training in military MORE, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? MORE, CIA Director Gina HaspelGina Cheri HaspelCIA chief threatened to resign over push to install Trump loyalist as deputy: report Biden announces veteran diplomat William Burns as nominee for CIA director Meet Biden's pick to lead the US intelligence community 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 PelosiPelosi quashes reports on Jan. 6 select committee Overnight Defense: Joint Chiefs warn against sweeping reform to military justice system | Senate panel plans July briefing on war authorization repeal | National Guard may have 'training issues' if not reimbursed On The Money: Powell says pickup in job gains likely this fall | Schumer, Pelosi meeting with White House on infrastructure 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 ConnollyDemocrats weigh next steps on Jan. 6 probe Tlaib, Democrats slam GOP calls for border oversight to fight opioid crisis Shakespeare gets a congressional hearing in this year's 'Will on the Hill' 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 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate to vote on elections bill Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda Progressives fear nightmare scenario over voting rights assault 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 SchumerChuck SchumerWhite House draws ire of progressives amid voting rights defeat Murkowski to vote 'no' on voting rights bill Harris to preside over Senate for voting rights debate 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: Joint Chiefs warn against sweeping reform to military justice system | Senate panel plans July briefing on war authorization repeal | National Guard may have 'training issues' if not reimbursed Senate panel plans July briefing on war authorization repeal Senate panel delays war authorization repeal after GOP push 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 LeeSenate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC GOP senators press Justice Department to compare protest arrests to Capitol riot MORE (R-Utah) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPoll: 58 percent say Fauci should not resign Fauci says he puts 'very little weight in the craziness of condemning me' Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior 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 CollinsPelosi quashes reports on Jan. 6 select committee White House advisers huddle with Senate moderates on infrastructure Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda MORE (R-Maine) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranDemocrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle MORE (R-Kan.) previously supported a similar resolution from Kaine and Sen. Tom UdallTom UdallSenate Democrats befuddled by Joe Manchin Study: Chemical used in paint thinners caused more deaths than EPA identified Oregon senator takes center stage in Democratic filibuster debate 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 MeadowsTech industry pushes for delay in antitrust legislation Head of firms that pushed 'Italygate' theory falsely claimed VA mansion was her home: report The Hill's Morning Report - Dems to go-it-alone on infrastructure as bipartisan plan falters 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 InhofePentagon chief backs change to military sexual assault prosecution Overnight Defense: Biden participates in NATO summit | White House backs 2002 AUMF repeal | Top general says no plans for airstrikes to help Afghan forces after withdrawal Top Republican proposes leaving 1,000 US troops in Afghanistan into next year 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.”