WASHINGTON (CN) - The House voted Thursday to rein in President Donald Trump’s war-making powers against Iran, a move that lacks teeth but puts support on the record for Congress’ authority to approve military action.
Known as a concurrent resolution, the measure terminates the use of U.S. military force in Iran and states that the president can only use force to engage Iran if first authorized by Congress. It was introduced by Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., a former CIA analyst who served three tours in Iraq.
The resolution is mostly symbolic because it will never land on Trump’s desk. Had House Democrats opted for a joint resolution instead - which requires a presidential signature - it would have certainly been vetoed.
The bill, which passed in a 224-194 vote Thursday afternoon, states unequivocally that the U.S. has an “inherent right to self defense” but that it is in the national interest to preserve partnerships with Iraq, Iran and other nations in the Middle East.
In order to avoid escalation in the region, the resolution states the executive branch must be tempered by Congress.
“The War Powers Resolution requires the President to consult with Congress in every possible instance before introducing U.S. armed forces into hostilities,” it states. “Congress has not authorized the President to use military force against Iran.”
The path to Thursday’s vote began on Jan. 3, when Trump ordered an airstrike against Qasem Soleimani, the top general of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which was labeled a terrorist group by the U.S. last April.
The White House has been cagey about its plans for the attack that killed Soleimani and has not clarified what it has in mind for the continuing fallout, which included Iran missile strikes on a U.S. base in Iraq this week.
Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, emerged flabbergasted after a closed door intelligence session between the White House and lawmakers on Wednesday.
In an NPR interview Thursday, Lee revealed administration officials were unable or unwilling to identify points at which Congress would be tapped for authorization, including if the administration hypothetically wished to target and kill Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“The fact that there was nothing but a refusal to answer that question was perhaps the most deeply upsetting thing to me in that meeting,” Lee said, although he went on to praise Trump in a later interview Thursday on Fox News.
Slotkin’s resolution explicitly says its passage should not be construed as a means to prevent Trump from using force against terrorist networks like the Islamic State group if necessary.
During debate on the House floor Thursday, Representative Mark Takano, D-Calif., said the administration’s unilateral decision to kill Soleimani had no legal justification, whether an inherent risk was present or not.
“His actions made America less safe,” Takano said of Trump. “We must not yield to the voices who say war is the only answer.”
An Iran military commander on Thursday promised “harsher revenge” against America, despite Trump saying just a day earlier that the U.S. was on a path of de-escalation.
Representative Mark Walker, R-N.C., said threats from Iran have persisted for 40 years. Soleimani’s presence in Baghdad and his meetings with Shia militia forces gave Republicans “every cause to think that the more nefarious behavior is coming,” he said.