WASHINGTON (CN) – The House passed two bills along party lines Thursday to restrict President Donald Trump’s ability to engage in military conflicts in the Middle East, including a repeal of a Bush-era authorization of military force.
One bill addresses the conflict with Iran, specifically limiting the president’s ability to use federal funds for hostile action there except in cases of self-defense. That measure passed in a 228-175 vote, two days after a Senate briefing by State Department officials on the relationship between the U.S. and Iran that left lawmakers feeling miffed.
The Trump administration ordered the killing of Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, on Jan. 3. That led to a House vote a week later to limit Trump’s war-making powers against the country.
But that vote was largely a symbolic statement because Democrats did not opt for a joint resolution, meaning it would never land on Trump’s desk.
Thursday’s bill, by contrast, would block funding for military action in Iran, though it likely won’t be taken up by the Republican-controlled Senate and would certainly be vetoed by Trump if it passed both legislative chambers.
The president took to his favorite social media platform Wednesday night to urge House Republicans to vote against the measure.
“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,” Trump tweeted. “Protect our GREAT COUNTRY!”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the bill limiting aggression against Iran was timely, with a poll released Thursday finding 60% of Americans opposed to a war with the country. The same poll found 68% want U.S. troops in Iraq to return home, she said.
“There is no appetite for war in our country,” Pelosi said.
The other bill that passed the House by a 236-166 vote Thursday repeals the authorization of military force against Iraq, which was first passed by Congress in 2002 during the George W. Bush administration. That authorization was part of the legal justification the Trump administration used to justify the strike that killed Soleimani.
Opponents of the bills to the perils of possible conflicts in the region and criticized the measures as restrictions on the ability for military response.
Representative Scott Perry, R-Pa., described the repeal of the authorization of military force as “pulling the rug out from under” American soldiers in the Middle East.
Representative Don Bacon, R-Neb., called the bill “naive” and “feckless,” saying during floor debate Thursday that repealing the Iraq authorization of military force would embolden other countries in the region to attack American troops stationed there, especially without a replacement to that legislation.
But Representative Eliot Engel, the New York Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said no one on the Democratic side needed a lecture about preserving America’s role in the world. He said the difference in opinion is because Democrats “don’t think there should just be a blank check for war.”
“The 2001 AUMF passed after 9/11 authorizes counterterrorism operations. The 2002 AUMF has nothing to do with counterterrorism operations, al-Qaida or ISIS,” Engel said, using the acronym for authorization of the use of military force. “It does not need to be replaced because the 2001 AUMF is still on the books.”
Both bills were introduced by Representative Ro Khanna, D-Calif. The votes came after a State Department briefing to members of Congress on Tuesday that reportedly provided no new information for the White House’s justification for the drone strike that killed Soleimani.
The White House said in a statement Monday that bill limiting military action in Iran would undermine the Trump administration’s reestablishment of deterrence with Iran, “which could perversely make violent conflict with Iran more likely.”
“This bill is misguided and its adoption by Congress could undermine the ability of the president to protect American citizens, whom Iran continues to try to harm. It would embolden the Iranian regime and make the world less safe, and less secure,” according to the statement.
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