Defense

House passes measure limiting Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran

The House has passed a resolution aimed at constraining President Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran, sending it to the president’s desk for his expected veto.

In a largely party-line 227-186 vote, the House approved the resolution that would direct the president to “terminate the use of United States Armed Forces for hostilities against” Iran unless Congress specifically authorizes it. Six Republicans voted for the measure.

The Senate passed the resolution in a 55-45 vote last month, with eight Republicans siding with Democrats to support it. Neither chamber of Congress is expected to have the votes to override Trump’s likely veto.

The passage of the resolution comes after tensions with Iran spiked earlier this year to the point where Washington and Iran appeared to be on the brink of war.

U.S.-Iran tensions have risen since Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions.

But hostility skyrocketed in early January with a U.S. drone strike that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Iran responded with a rocket attack on two military bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops. More than 100 U.S. troops were later diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries caused by the attack.

Since the strikes, both sides have stepped back from the brink. But just before the House started voting Wednesday, the U.S. military confirmed that 15 rockets hit Camp Taji in Iraq, and several reports said that two Americans and a British service member were killed.

Officials have not placed blame for the attack, but suspicion immediately fell on Iran-backed militias that operate in Iraq.

During floor debate on the measure, some Republicans argued the resolution is no longer relevant.

Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the resolution is “based on a false promise.”

“It orders the president to terminate hostilities against Iran. The problem is, for the other side, we are not engaged in hostilities in Iran,” McCaul said.

But supporters of the war powers resolution argued it is still necessary to assert Congress’ constitutional authority over declaring war.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said while lawmakers are “all relieved that tensions have ratcheted down,” it is “not an accurate reading of the law” to say the resolution is unnecessary or wouldn’t have an effect because the United States and Iran aren’t in a shooting war.

“Congress doesn’t have to wait until the president alone decides to use military force again,” Engel said ahead of the vote. “Indeed, it’s our responsibility to do something. Because we know that tensions could flare up again at a moment’s notice, Iran has not been deterred as the administration promised.”

Six Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the resolution: Reps. Ken Buck (Colo..), Thomas Massie (Ky.), Morgan Griffith (Va.), Tom Reed (N.Y.), David Schweikert (Ariz.) and Fred Upton (Mich.).

McCaul on Wednesday also attacked Democrats for bringing the resolution up for a vote while the nation is gripped by fear over coronavirus, arguing constituents he’s spoken to recently have asked about the virus and “were really not concerned about the war powers resolution.”

The Trump administration has defended the Soleimani strike as necessary to “reestablish deterrence” with Iran. Administration officials have also claimed, without providing evidence, that Soleimani was planning “imminent” attacks. 

Democrats have blasted the administration’s shifting explanations for the drone strike and failure to provide evidence on Soleimani’s alleged plots. 

The House previously passed a similar resolution in January a week after the Soleimani strike. The main difference between that measure and the one passed Wednesday is the type of resolution. The January resolution would not have had to get Trump’s signature, but that also raised questions about whether it would be binding.

The resolution passed Wednesday, which was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), requires Trump’s signature.

The White House has threatened to veto the measure, saying it “fails to account for present reality.” Ahead of last month’s Senate vote on the resolution, Trump also urged senators to vote against by arguing it would “show weakness.” 

Tags David Schweikert Donald Trump Eliot Engel Fred Upton Iran Ken Buck Michael McCaul Morgan Griffith Thomas Massie Tim Kaine Tom Reed

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