Defense

House votes to rein in Trump’s military authority

The House on Thursday voted to repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF), which the Trump administration has used to justify its controversial drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

The House approved the bill to repeal the Iraq War authorization in a largely party-line vote of 236 to 166.

“Members of Congress continue to have serious, urgent concerns about the president’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran and about its lack of strategy moving forward,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said ahead of Thursday’s vote.

Congress’s power to declare war, she added, “has been, shall we say, usurped by administrations both Democratic and Republican, and now to an extent that practically abrogates whatever is in the Constitution.”

The vote on the measure sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) came shortly after the House approved a bill from Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) that would block funding for military action against Iran.

Khanna’s bill was approved in a 228-175 vote.

House Democrats scheduled votes on Khanna’s and Lee’s bills as fears of war between the United States and Iran spiked earlier this month after President Trump ordered the drone strike in Iraq that killed Soleimani.

Iran retaliated with a missile strike on an Iraqi military base housing U.S. troops, an attack that led to traumatic brain injuries for dozens of U.S. troops. 

The Trump administration has cited the 2002 AUMF in its legal justification for the Soleimani strike, which took place on Iraqi soil and came after the administration blamed an Iranian-backed militia for a rocket attack in Iraq that killed a U.S. contractor and an attempt to storm the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

The 2002 AUMF, which was passed to authorize the Iraq War, allows military action to “defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.” The authorization has been used to some extent by successive presidents to justify military action against terrorist threats, though administrations more prominently use the post-9/11 AUMF for operations against terrorists. 

“I stand here once again urging Congress to do its job, this time by repealing the long outdated and unnecessary 2002 AUMF,” Lee, who voted against both the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs, said Thursday ahead of the vote. “Not only is it not needed for any current counterterrorism operations, but repealing it would have absolutely no impact on the administration’s ongoing military operations.”

By contrast, Lee continued, leaving the AUMF on the books would “allow any administration to use it for military action that Congress never intended to authorize.”

Before the vote, the Trump administration sent mixed messages on its position regarding Khanna’s and Lee’s bills.

The White House issued veto threats that called the measures “misguided.” The administration argued that repealing the 2002 AUMF “would embolden our enemies” and that blocking funding for military action would “hinder the president’s ability to protect United States diplomats, forces and interests in the region from the continued threat posed by Iran and its proxies.”

On Wednesday morning, though, Trump appeared to release Republicans to vote for the 2002 AUMF repeal, tweeting that both Republicans and Democrats should “vote their HEART!

But later that day, Trump slammed Democrats for pushing bills he said would “make it harder” to defend against Iran.

“With Votes in the House tomorrow, Democrats want to make it harder for Presidents to defend America, and stand up to, as an example, Iran. Protect our GREAT COUNTRY!” Trump tweeted Wednesday evening.

“Nancy Pelosi wants Congress to take away authority Presidents use to stand up to other countries and defend AMERICANS. Stand with your Commander in Chiefs!” he added in a second tweet.

Most Republicans stuck with Trump, calling Khanna’s and Lee’s bills “dangerous” and intended to “weaken” Trump.

Republicans also fumed about the procedure Democrats used to bring the bills to the floor.

The House voted on Khanna’s and Lee’s measures as amendments to an unrelated commemorative coin bill. That prevented Republicans from offering what’s known as a motion to recommit, which is the last opportunity to amend a bill in the House.

Motions to recommit are used often by the minority and usually fail. But Republicans successfully used them several times last year to force centrist Democrats into tough votes and split with the party.

“Speaker Pelosi and the House Democrats are so unsure of their own substantive case that they are hiding behind House rules to make sure that Republicans can’t even bring any amendment to this legislation,” said Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the No. 3 House Republican.

The procedural move prompted some Republicans who previously voted for both bills in July to vote against them on Thursday, with Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) saying he switched his vote because the debate was now a “sham.”

Still, a few Republicans broke with Trump and voted to repeal the 2002 AUMF, as well as to block funding for military action on Iran. Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Warren Davidson (Ohio), Thomas Massie (Ky.) and Trey Hollingsworth (Ind.) voted for Khanna’s bill.

Lee’s measure garnered GOP support from Gaetz, Davidson and Massie, as well as Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Michael Cloud (Texas), Mike Gallagher (Wis.), Alex Mooney (W.Va.), Jamie Herrera Beutler (Wash.), Chip Roy (Texas), David Schweikert (Ariz.) and Fred Upton (Mich.).

Gaetz, a staunch Trump supporter, said on the House floor that he had “come to vote my heart,” an apparent reference to Trump’s Wednesday morning tweet.

The Florida Republican was a co-sponsor of Khanna’s bill when it received a vote in July. He was also one of three GOP lawmakers to support a war powers resolution the House approved earlier this month that sought to constrain Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran.

Neither Khanna’s nor Lee’s bill is expected to get a vote in the GOP-controlled Senate. Both were previously approved by the House as amendments to the annual defense policy bill, but they were stripped from the final version of the legislation during negotiations with the Senate.

Unlike a separate war powers resolution expected to be voted on in the Senate, Khanna’s and Lee’s measures do not have built-in mechanisms for Democrats to force a vote in the Senate.

Updated at 1:31 p.m.

Tags Alex Mooney AUMF authorization for use of military force Baghdad Barbara Lee Chip Roy David Schweikert Donald Trump Drone strike Fred Upton Iran Iraq Liz Cheney Matt Gaetz Mike Gallagher Nancy Pelosi Ro Khanna Thomas Massie Tom Reed Trey Hollingsworth Warren Davidson

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