Democrats look to ramp up fight over Trump's war powers

Democrats look to ramp up fight over Trump's war powers
© Getty

A pair of House-passed bills seeking to rein in President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussian sanctions will boomerang States, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash A Presidents Day perspective on the nature of a free press MORE on Iran are dead on arrival in the Senate, but Democrats say the fight over the issue is not over.

The Senate still has to vote on its version of a different measure, the so-called war powers resolution, which the House will then have to pass too. And Democrats are looking to the annual defense policy bill, which will likely provide the next battleground over Trump's Iran strategy.

Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaDemocrats call for Twitter, Facebook to take down Pelosi video posted by Trump The Memo: Sanders supporters sense victory in Iowa Democrats look to ramp up fight over Trump's war powers MORE (D-Calif.), who sponsored one of the bills approved this past week, is vowing to address Iran war authorities in the defense legislation.


"I do think it's going to be a huge issue in this year's NDAA," Khanna said, referring to the National Defense Authorization Act.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithTop Armed Services Republican: Pentagon using .8B on border wall 'requires Congress to take action' Trump under pressure to renew last nuke treaty with Russia Democrats look to ramp up fight over Trump's war powers MORE (D-Wash.) said he’s open to including both measures that passed this past week in his defense bill even though that would reignite a fight with the Senate that contributed to slowing down the bill last year.

“It’s absolutely relitigating the same fight we had with the Senate last year, but it’s a fight worth relitigating,” Smith said. “The Congress should have some say in when we commit our troops to fight, and that ability of Congress to have a say has been steadily eroded, for decades really, and we need to find a way to reassert it."

First up, though, is finishing consideration of the Iran war powers resolution, which has been on pause since Trump’s impeachment trial started in the Senate.

In early January, the House passed a version of the war powers resolution, which seeks to block Trump from taking military action against Iran by directing the president “to terminate the use of United States Armed Forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran” unless Congress specifically authorizes military action or the military needs to defend against an “imminent armed attack.”

In the Senate, Democrats are planning to force a vote on a slightly different version of the war powers resolution introduced by Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineThe Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' Democratic senators ask FDA to ban device used to shock disabled students MORE (D-Va.). Kaine has secured the support of four Republicans, enough to give the resolution the requisite 51 votes to pass.


It’s unclear when exactly the resolution will come up for a vote in the Senate, but Kaine’s office said Friday he expects it to happen soon after the impeachment trial ends.

Once the resolution passes the Senate, the House is expected to take up the Kaine version, sending it to Trump’s desk for his likely veto.

Meanwhile, this past week, the House passed a bill from Khanna to block funding for military action against Iran and a bill from Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeSenior black Democrats urge party chairman to take responsibility for Iowa Lawmakers with first-hand experience using food stamps call on Trump not to cut program Abortion wars flare up in Congress MORE (D-Calif.) to repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF).

The Trump administration has cited the 2002 AUMF, which authorized the Iraq War, in its legal justification for the drone strike the killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, which took place in Iraq.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersJoe Biden lost his fastball — can he get it back before South Carolina? Where the 2020 Democrats stand on taxes Bloomberg hits Sanders supporters in new ad MORE (I-Vt.) is sponsoring a companion version of Khanna’s legislation in the Senate. But unlike the war powers resolution, neither Khanna’s bill nor Lee’s bill have a built-in mechanism for Democrats to force a vote, making it unlikely the Republican-controlled Senate will take them up.

Both Khanna’s bill and Lee’s bill were in the initial version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) the House passed last year. Negotiations on the NDAA with the Senate dragged on for months as negotiators battled over those and other progressive provisions in the House bill.

Ultimately, most progressive priorities, including the 2002 AUMF repeal and the ban on funding for Iran military action, were stripped out of the final bill that was signed into law because of fierce opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate. 

Khanna and other progressives voted against the final version of the NDAA last year after the Iran provisions and other progressive ones were taken out. 

But Khanna has vowed to revive the fight in this year’s NDAA, which lawmakers are expected to consider in the spring.

“I’m hopeful this time we’ll fight for it and learn the lesson of last time,” he said. “I think people were complacent that the situation with Iran had calmed down and that’s why it wasn’t as urgent in the last NDAA.”

The initial House NDAA last summer was taken up weeks after Trump said he came within minutes of striking Iran after it shot down a U.S. drone. U.S.-Iran tensions simmered through the fall, but then spiked back up in late December and early January, coming to a head with the Soleimani strike.

In hindsight, Khanna said, he thinks House Democratic leadership “would have insisted” on the Iran provisions “had we known that this president was going to engage in a strike to Soleimani or that the Pentagon was recommending that.”

Looking forward to this year’s bill, he added, “the last thing we can do is give the Pentagon another blank check.”

Khanna also raised the possibility of using the appropriations process to target Trump’s Iran policy, highlighting the support from House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) for his bill.

If the Iran measures get into the House NDAA this year, Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Energy: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' Architect of controversial EPA policies to return as chief of staff: report Democratic senators press Interior official over proposed changes to migratory bird protections MORE (R-Okla.) indicated bicameral negotiations would play out similarly to last year, telling The Hill that “I don’t see any reason that I would change my position on it.”

But Democrats say they intend to keep the spotlight on.

Smith cautioned he isn’t “100 percent committed at this point” to including the AUMF repeal and funding block in this year’s NDAA.

Still, he added, “we want to find a path to keep pushing these issues.”