Rebuking Trump, Congress Passes Bill Limiting War Powers

WASHINGTON (CN) — The House voted Wednesday to approve a Senate-passed resolution that would restrict the president’s authority for initiating military action against Iran without congressional approval.

The bill, passed in a 227-186 vote, is expected to be vetoed by President Donald Trump. The House’s approval comes about a month after the resolution squeaked through the Republican-controlled Senate by a 55-45 vote.

Mourners attend a funeral ceremony for Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his comrades in Kerman, Iran, on Jan. 7, 2020. (Erfan Kouchari/Tasnim News Agency via AP)

The measure is a response to the administration’s January drone strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. That attack, launched with approval from lawmakers, sparked another resolution in the House aimed at reasserting Congress’ role in authorizing military action. The concurrent resolution limiting Trump’s authorization of military action against Iran passed the Democrat-controlled chamber shortly after Soleimani’s assassination, though that measure was a symbolic one and was never meant to land on Trump’s desk.

The bill passed Wednesday would bar Trump from taking further military action against Iran without a vote from Congress. However, given the vote margin in the Senate, it is unlikely Congress will be able to override the president’s veto, which requires a two-thirds majority.

The Constitution gives Congress the absolute authority to declare war, but that power has been eroded through presidential actions like the strike against Soleimani as well as congressional lethargy.

While rules for debate on the resolution were outlined Wednesday, Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern said the House had promised to take up the Iran war powers legislation if it passed the Senate.

Wednesday’s resolution is not a partisan attempt to pass symbolic legislation, McGovern said, denying a repeated cry from Republicans as the war powers measure has moved through legislative channels. He thanked a broad majority of Republicans who joined with Democrats in supporting the bill in the Senate.

“This is not a partisan measure. Eight republicans joined with Senator [Tim] Kaine in supporting this war powers resolution,” McGovern said before the House vote. “Passage here would send the Kaine resolution directly to the president’s desk.”

McGovern added that the Trump administration’s claim that the Soleimani strike was a response to an imminent threat is unsubstantiated. A legally mandated report to Congress with information on the strike made clear that claims of an imminent threat against Iran were unfounded, he said.

“And I would just simply say that this shouldn’t be controversial because whether you support the president extending military operations against Iran or not, we should all agree that Congress has a constitutional responsibility here,” McGovern said.

Representative Al Green, D-Texas, who supported the House’s concurrent resolution in January, told Courthouse News that including a measure in Wednesday’s vote to assert Congress’ right to declare war, and protecting that right, was important.

“We have a president who has demonstrated that he does not give great regard to the Constitution and the laws of the land,” Green said. “This is a means by which we can get his attention and hopefully prevent us from engaging in an unnecessary and needless confrontation that could become a conflagration.”

A statement from the White House released Tuesday said the administration opposed the passage of a resolution restricting the president’s military powers. Outlining instances of conflict between the U.S. and Iran, the administration argued that since there is no current escalation of attacks between the countries, the resolution should not be approved by lawmakers.

“Despite the predictions of many people, however, no such escalation occurred,” the statement reads. “The resolution is thus grounded in a faulty premise. The United States is not currently engaged in any use of force against Iran, in part because of the sound policies and decisive, effective actions of this administration.”

Republicans like Texas Congressman Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, parroted the administration’s argument on the House floor Wednesday. Noting the country was no longer engaged in hostilities with Iran, McCaul said imminent attacks on U.S. servicemen in Iraq was the president’s reason for authorizing the strike against Soleimani.

With the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 spreading across the country, Congress should be focused on responding to that threat, McCaul said.

“Now is not the time to tie our commander-in-chief’s hands,” he said.

House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said before the vote Wednesday that the House hoped to pass the bill without amendments, which ended up being the case.

“But nevertheless, it will be another statement similar to Ms. Slotkin’s that passed some weeks ago and was sent to the Senate and it stated again, that wars powers, Article I of the Constitution, gives the Congress the authority and the responsibility to declare war and that the administration ought to be seized of that and that message has been sent to previous administrations as well,” Hoyer said, referring to the January concurrent resolution introduced by Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., a former CIA analyst who served in Iraq.

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