Written by Catie Edmondson
Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Wednesday that the House would vote Thursday to force President Donald Trump to quickly wind down military action against Iran unless he is given explicit authorization from Congress, opening what promised to be a searing debate over presidential war powers.
Pelosi issued the statement as lawmakers breathed a sigh of relief on Capitol Hill after Trump said he would back away from any military escalation against Tehran. But congressional Democrats, skeptical of the administration’s case for the drone strike last week that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani and dissatisfied with the rationale Trump’s team offered for taking it, pledged to press ahead with their efforts to rein in the president’s war-making authority.
They said the vote on Thursday would be on a measure that would require that Trump cease all military action against Iran unless Congress votes to approve it. Such a measure could face an uphill climb in the Republican-controlled Senate, but on Wednesday, two Republicans signaled they were inclined to support it, holding open the possibility of a razor-thin vote. Either way, it is certain to ignite a fierce debate over Trump’s strategy on Iran and Congress’ role in curtailing a president’s ability to wage war.
“Members of Congress have serious, urgent concerns about the administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran and about its lack of strategy moving forward,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Our concerns were not addressed by the president’s insufficient War Powers Act notification and by the administration’s briefing today.”
The day after Iranian missile struck bases in Iraq where American troops are stationed, Republicans and Democrats in Congress split sharply over the president’s approach on Iran and the way forward. Amid back-to-back classified briefings by top administration officials for members of the House and Senate, most Republicans praised Trump effusively on Wednesday for targeting Soleimani and for his restraint in responding to Iran’s action.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, said the president had shown “patience and prudence.”
“As a superpower, we have the capacity to exercise restraint and to respond at a time and place of our choosing, if need be,” he said. “I believe the president wants to avoid conflict or needless loss of life. But he’s rightly prepared to protect American lives and interests.”
But a couple of Republicans joined Democrats in raising grave questions about Trump’s strategy, concerns that only sharpened after the briefings on Capitol Hill by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, and the CIA director, Gina Haspel.
Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky, who have long been vocal proponents of asserting Congress’ war-making authority, said they would back a Senate version of the House Democrats’ resolution because they found the administration’s presentation to be so “insulting.”
The message from the administration, Lee said, was “to run along and be good little boys and girls and not debate” the justification for the strike that killed Soleimani. “It’s un-American, it’s unconstitutional, and it’s wrong,” he said.
The pair’s defections could be significant in the Senate, where Republicans control 53 votes to Democrats’ 47, and only 51 are needed to approve a resolution concerning war powers.
Democrats voiced their own serious doubts about the president’s actions and what they called the dearth of credible information coming from the administration about his strategy on Iran. The Iranian attacks had only strengthened their resolve to reassert Congress’ role in matters of war, they said.
“America and the world cannot afford war,” Pelosi said.
Democrats were still debating Wednesday evening how quickly to move on limiting Trump’s war powers. The Senate measure, sponsored by Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, gives the president a 30-day deadline to come to Congress for authorization for military action, and Pelosi told Democrats on Sunday that the House would consider a resolution with the same timetable. But a draft of the proposal released Wednesday did not specify a deadline.
Pelosi also said that the House may also vote on a pair of measures to further constrain Trump’s war powers that Democrats included this year in the annual defense policy bill but were ultimately stripped out before its final passage. One, led by Rep. Ro Khanna of California, would bar the president from using funds provided by Congress to strike Iran without lawmakers’ permission. The other, led by Rep. Barbara Lee of California, would repeal a 2002 measure granting President George W. Bush authorization to use military force in Iraq.