/House votes to limit Trumps ability to wage war with Iran after Soleimani killing

House votes to limit Trumps ability to wage war with Iran after Soleimani killing

WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives passed a resolution Thursday aimed at curbing President Donald Trump’s ability to wage war against Iran amid concerns about the escalation of tensions following the U.S. killing of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, a top Iranian general.

Congressional Democrats have sharply criticized the Trump administration for not consulting Congress on the Soleimani strike and have accused him of recklessness in his decision-making on Iran.

“The American people do not want war with Iran. With the measure before us today, we are denying the president the authority to wage such a war,” Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.

The vote broke down largely along partisan lines, garnering overwhelming support from Democrats, but 3 Republicans backed it and 8 Democrats voted against it.

The House measure’s sponsor, Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., called the debate over war powers a “constitutional duty.”

“If our loved ones are going to be sent in any protracted war, the president owes our public a conversation,” she said.

Republicans criticized the measure, saying it had no teeth in curbing the president’s authority when it comes to Iran. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the resolution has “no power whatsoever” and called the vote “meaningless.”

“It will never be sent to the president, and it will never limit his constitutional authority to defend the American people,” he said. “This is the type of resolution that we invite the soapbox derby to the Capitol.

McCarthy also said the bill sowed dissent at a time when the country needed to come together, arguing Democrats were using the resolution to air their “hatred” of the president.

The War Powers Act of 1973 allows Congress to pass legislation to force a withdrawal when military forces are engaged in conflict outside U.S. borders, but a 1983 Supreme Court decision said acts of Congress needed to be presented to the president to be legally binding.

The resolution will now go to the Republican-controlled Senate for consideration, though it does not have to be signed by the president. Passage would require four Republicans to join with Democrats to back it.

The Senate is considering its own version of the measure to force a military withdrawal sponsored by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.

Kaine’s version differs slightly, as it is a joint resolution, which carries the force of law, whereas the resolution passed in the House is a concurrent resolution, which does not. But so far, at least two Senate Republicans have voiced support for the measure.

The House’s 224-194 vote in favor of the measure reflected debates within both parties about the president’s powers to wage war.

Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., who voted against the resolution, said he would “refuse to play politics with questions of war and peace,” arguing the resolution did not go far enough to check presidential war powers. Rose wanted a repeal of the 2002 Authorization of Use of Military Force instead.

Other Democrats felt differently. Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., said he believed the measure would send the “wrong message.”

“President Trump committed to de-escalating the situation over in Iran and I stand behind that commitment,” he said. “I don’t think Congress needs to be saying the message that we’re not with the president on that position.”

Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-N.Y. said his qualms with the measure laid with limiting the president’s powers. “I don’t want to restrict this administration or, frankly, any administration’s ability to respond to threats from Iran,” he said.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., one of the few Republicans to vote with Democrats on the measure, said he supported Trump but was backing the legislation because “this vote is about exercising our constitutional authority but more importantly, our moral obligation to decide when and where our troops are going to be asked to give their lives.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., normally a staunch ally of the president, also voted for the measure.

“It’s ludicrous to suggest we’re preventing the troops from their job by doing our job,” he said.

Rep. Francis Rooney, the third Republican who voted with Democrats in favor of the measure, voiced concern over the president’s strategy in the Middle East and stressed the need for “long-term diplomacy.”

“I’m not sure what the strategy is,” he said. “I’m sure that Soleimani was a super bad guy and there’s plenty of them out there. Just start naming them.”

In a tweet Thursday morning, President Donald Trump slammed the resolution as “another Democrat fraud” and “Presidential harassment,” adding that he hoped all congressional Republicans would vote against it.

Though some Republicans argued the Trump administration does not need further congressional approval for military actions against Iran, others criticized the administration’s handling of the process.

The classified briefings given to all members of Congress on Wednesday left lawmakers split mostly along party lines. Most Republicans said they were satisfied with the administration’s explanation for the Soleimani strike, and Democrats said they were “unconvinced.”

Coming out of one of the classified briefings, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, called it “the worst briefing I’ve had on a military issue in my nine years” in the Senate.

“It is not acceptable,” a furious Lee said, “to come in and tell us that we can’t debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran. It’s un-American. It’s unconstitutional. And it’s wrong. And I hope and expect that they will show greater deference to their own limited power in the future.”

Lee and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said they would support Kaine’s war powers measure.

In an address Wednesday, Trump said the United States would authorize further sanctions against Iran rather than taking military action in response to Iranian missile attacks on bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops

“Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world,” Trump said.

In a statement released Wednesday, Pelosi said the House might consider two other pieces of legislation related to congressional war powers. One bill, from Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., would bar the use of funds for military action against Iran without congressional approval.

The other, from Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., would repeal a 2002 authorization for military force against Iraq that administration officials cited as part of their legal justification for killing Soleimani.

Legal experts said the House resolution was likely to have more political than legal effect.

“It’s a political signal, and it tells the administration, it tells the world that the United States is not unified behind these actions,” said Steve Pomper, senior director for policy at the International Crisis Group and a former State Department legal adviser.

The resolution on the House floor was the “use of legal tools for political effect” that would “force the executive branch to spend some political capital defending the actions,” said Columbia Law Professor Matthew Waxman.

One reason House Democrats opted to use this kind of resolution, rather than the kind of binding legislation introduced by Kaine, in the Senate, is that Trump would not sign a binding piece of legislation, Pomper said.

“Imagine a world in which you have a joint resolution that would then go to the president for signature,” he explained. “He wouldn’t sign it, and then it would be a dead letter.”

Contributing: Deirdre Shesgreen