House passes measure seeking to limit Trump on Iran
The House on Thursday approved a measure aimed at restricting President Trump’s ability to go to war with Iran, a day after a number of lawmakers expressed frustration at the briefing where the administration provided its arguments for a drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
In a largely party-line vote of 224-194, the House passed a war powers resolution that would direct the president to end military hostilities with Iran unless Congress specifically authorizes it or the United States faces an “imminent armed attack.”
The measure would not need Trump’s signature because it’s what’s known as a “concurrent resolution.” But that has also left Democrats open to criticism that the resolution is just a messaging bill since concurrent resolutions are typically nonbinding, though their use to force the end of military hostilities under the War Powers Act is untested in court.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) insisted Thursday the resolution has “teeth” and would send a strong message.
“This is with real teeth,” Pelosi said at her weekly press conference. “We’re taking this path because it does not require … a signature of the president of the United States. This is a statement of the Congress of the United States, and I will not have that statement be diminished by whether the president will veto it or not.”
The administration has argued killing Soleimani was necessary to prevent an “imminent” attack, but has proved little evidence publicly beyond citing his past attacks. Trump also claimed Thursday that Iran was “looking to blow up” the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Democrats and some Senate Republicans have expressed anger over what they described as a lack of information at an administration briefing, which took place one day after Iran responded to the Soleimani killing by firing missiles at two Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops.
Democrats said the briefing — which was delivered by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley — offered unconvincing evidence that Soleimani was planning an imminent attack.
Ahead of the vote Thursday, Trump urged Republicans to oppose the resolution.
“Hope that all House Republicans will vote against Crazy Nancy Pelosi’s War Powers Resolution,” he tweeted Thursday morning. “Also, remember her ‘speed & rush’ in getting the Impeachment Hoax voted on & done. Well, she never sent the Articles to the Senate. Just another Democrat fraud. Presidential Harassment!”
While most Republicans fell in line, there were three defections.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a vocal Trump supporter, backed the resolution after Democrats agreed to his amendment to remove a line from the findings section of the measure that said “the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, as well as Iran’s ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases, risks significant escalation in hostilities between the United States and Iran.”
“I don’t think that our country needs to get pulled into another forever Middle East war in the absence of congressional approval. I’m very pleased that my amendment stripping out any reference to Soleimani, stripping out any critique of the president was adopted, and as a result, I’m going to vote for the resolution,” Gaetz told The Hill.
“I had a very productive conversation with the president and I know that he wants to end these wars as badly as I do,” he added. “Matter of fact, he told me that he wants to end these wars even more than I do.”
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) also crossed the aisle to vote in favor of the measure.
Most Republicans, though, argued the resolution was a show vote intended to undermine Trump.
“This is a meaningless vote that only sends the wrong message that the House Democrats would rather stand with the socialist base than stand against Iran,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said at his weekly press conference.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1983 that a separate law that said a concurrent resolution was binding was an unconstitutional “legislative veto.” But some legal analysts argue the War Powers Act “is in a unique category,” according to the Congressional Research Service.
Some Democrats, too, opposed the measure over it being a concurrent resolution.
“I refuse to play politics with questions of war and peace and therefore will not support this resolution,” centrist Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.) said in a statement ahead of the vote. “Going forward, Congress must be proactive in living up to our Constitutional duties to declare war and authorize the use of military force. This resolution is not that.”
A total of eight Democrats voted against the resolution, including Reps. Ben McAdams (Utah), Anthony Brindisi (N.Y.), Joe Cunningham (S.C.), Kendra Horn (Okla.), Stephanie Murphy (Fla.), Josh Gottheimer (N.J.) and Elaine Luria (Va.).
The House may have more votes on Iran in the coming weeks. Pelosi vowed Thursday to vote to repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force, which authorized the Iraq War and which the Trump administration has used as legal justification for the Soleimani strike. She has also said the House may vote on a bill to block funding for military action against Iran.
The Senate, meanwhile, is expected to move on a similar war powers resolution from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). His measure is a “joint resolution,” though, and so would have the force of law — but also need Trump’s signature.
“I think we would like to try to get one to the president’s desk,” Kaine said Thursday on taking up his measure instead of the House measure.
Democrats can force a vote on Kaine’s measure as soon as Tuesday in the Republican-controlled chamber. It’s unclear, though, whether the resolution can muster the simple majority needed to pass the Senate.
In June, four Republicans supported a measure that would have blocked funding for military action against Iran: Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Mike Lee (Utah), Susan Collins (Maine) and Jerry Moran (Kan.). Four Republicans would give the war powers resolution 51 votes, assuming all Democrats vote for it.
Paul and Lee announced Wednesday they support Kaine’s proposal after the administration’s Iran briefing, which Lee called “insulting and demeaning.”
Collins and Moran have not announced a position on the resolution. Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) has also said he’s undecided on the resolution.
Another complicating factor for the Senate is the possibility of the House sending over articles of impeachment against Trump before it can take up the war powers resolution. That would likely push a vote on the war powers resolution until after the impeachment trial. Pelosi said Thursday she would send the articles “soon.”
Juliegrace Brufke and Jordain Carney contributed