The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a War Powers Resolution aimed at preventing President Donald Trump from launching a war against Iran.
The resolution was introduced by Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin and would prevent Trump from using military force against Iran without a declaration of war or the explicit authorization of Congress.
The measure was passed 224 to 194, with three Republicans joining all but eight Democrats in approving it.
“This is simply what our Constitution requires,” Slotkin said in a statement ahead of the vote. “If our loved ones are going to be sent to fight in any protracted war, the President owes the American people a public conversation about why and for what ends.”
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine has introduced a similar resolution in the Senate and a vote is expected to be held on it in the coming weeks.
Today, we're voting on a resolution I introduced to make it clear that if the President wants to take us to war, he must get authorization from Congress.
If our loved ones are going to fight in any protracted war, the President owes the American people a public conversation: pic.twitter.com/zBFzU6wHMd
— Rep. Elissa Slotkin (@RepSlotkin) January 9, 2020
Slotkin’s bill is a “concurrent” resolution, which means it does not need Trump’s signature to be enacted.
Concurrent resolutions typically are non-binding and hold less legal weight than formal laws, although Congress retains Constitutional war powers over the president.
If the resolution is passed by the Senate but not respected by Trump, Washington could find itself in “uncharted waters” that could require the input of the Supreme Court to resolve, Hassan el-Tayyab, a legislative representative for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, told The Globe Post.
Brink of War
Thursday’s vote came after Trump brought the U.S. to the brink of war with Iran following his decision to authorize the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq last week.
In response, Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on two Iraqi military bases housing U.S. soldiers on Tuesday. No American or Iraqi forces were killed. Addressing the nation Wednesday, Trump vowed to ramp up sanctions on Iran but made no mention of a military response to the Iranian attack.
Though the two powers seem to have averted a major war for now, experts have cautioned that tensions remain high and that the crisis is far from over.
The Trump administration has insisted that it does not need permission from Congress to carry out future military action against Iran, citing the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which was originally intended to authorize President George W. Bush to carry out a war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Both Democratic and Republican representatives, however, have disputed the administration’s legal interpretation. Slotkin’s resolution is intended to leave no room for argument, clarifying that “Congress has not authorized the President to use military force against Iran.”
The resolution, however, leaves the door open for the president to order an attack on Iran if such action is “necessary and appropriate to defend against an imminent armed attack.”
Trump administration officials have justified the killing of Soliemani by claiming that the general was planning to carry out “imminent” attacks on U.S. personnel in the region.
But after a classified briefing on Capitol Hill Wednesday, lawmakers, including some from Trump’s own party, rejected that assertion and voiced support for reining in the president’s war authority.
Reasserting War Powers
Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution grants the legislative branch sole authority over the decision to go to war. But in recent decades, Congress has largely abdicated that responsibility, deferring to the executive on matters of war and peace.
Thursday’s vote, however, is the latest in a series of recent moves aimed at reasserting Congressional war powers.
Sen. Mike Lee: "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 un-Constitutional, and it's wrong." pic.twitter.com/5HCZsSlrDs
— The Hill (@thehill) January 9, 2020
If the resolution is passed by the Senate, it will mark only the second time Congress has ever evoked the War Powers Act since the legislation was passed in 1973. The prior instance came last year, when Congress passed a measure directing Trump to remove American forces from hostilities in Yemen, where the U.S. has been supporting a Saudi-led war that has led to what the U.N has deemed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
That resolution – sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ro Khanna – was ultimately vetoed by Trump, and an effort to override it in the Senate failed.
Though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not yet scheduled a vote on Kaine’s resolution, the measure is “privileged,” meaning a vote must be held on it within 30 days of its introduction (Jan. 3).
But as a staunch ally of Trump’s, McConnell successfully stalled a vote on the Yemen resolution last year, introducing a measure “de-privileging” it into a popular farm bill.
Though the majority of GOP Senators are expected to oppose Kaine’s resolution, two Republicans, Mike Lee and Rand Paul, have said publicly they intend to support it.
Lee and Paul were joined by fellow Republicans Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Todd Young, Steve Daines, and Jerry Moran in supporting the Yemen resolution.
In addition to Slotkin and Kaine’s War Powers Resolution, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Wednesday that the House “may also consider additional legislation” to restrict Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran, calling his decision to kill Soleimani “provocative.”
That could include a bill introduced by Khanna that would cut off any funding for an offensive strike against Iran without explicit Congressional authorization, Pelosi said.
Earlier Thursday, Khanna was joined by Sanders, representatives Barbara Lee and Pramila Jayapal, and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Chris Van Hollen, Patrick Lahey, and Maria Cantwell at a press conference in support of the legislation.
Sanders has introduced an accompanying bill in the Senate.
If we get involved in a war in Iran, in all likelihood it will be even worse than the war in Iraq. pic.twitter.com/7ns9Hnm7oo
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) January 7, 2020
In addition to its war powers, the Constitution grants Congress the power of the purse, which Khanna said could be an effective tool in preventing what he believes would be another “disastrous” war in the Middle East.
The measure introduced by Khanna was already passed by the House this summer as an amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The provision, however, was cut out of the final bill during negotiations between the House and Senate Foreign Affairs Committee leaders.
Speaking to The Globe Post in December, Khanna blamed meddling from the Trump administration for the exclusion of his amendment.
“This NDAA was outsourced to the White House,” Khanna said. “I have been dismayed by how much deference Congress has given the White House to help draft the NDAA.”
The New York Times reported that month that Democratic House leaders were forced to negotiate directly with Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, who insisted that and other amendments be removed.
Pelosi also said the House could consider legislation introduced by Barbra Lee to repeal the 2002 AUMF. Lee has long been a leading voice calling for restraint in foreign policy and cast the sole vote against the 2001 AUMF authorizing the war in Afghanistan, which remains ongoing after more than eighteen years.