Updated 12:49 p.m.
The House is set to vote on a non-binding measure aimed at President Donald Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran as Democratic criticism of the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general intensifies.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that the war powers resolution, which does not require Trump’s signature, nonetheless “has real teeth” because it is “a statement of the Congress of the United States. I will not have that statement be diminished by whether the president will veto it or not.”
Pelosi announced the vote Wednesday, declaring that last week’s drone strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani was “provocative and disproportionate.”
The Democratic measure seems certain to pass over solid Republican opposition. A similar proposal by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., faces an uphill fight in the GOP-run Senate.
Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, denounced the Democratic measure as little more than “a press release designed to attack President Trump,” noting that it has no binding effect and cannot be signed into law.
“This resolution only wastes our valuable time, plays politics with our national security and damages our ability to protect American lives and interests in the Middle East,” Scalise said. The vote comes a day after the Trump administration briefed lawmakers on its actions in Iran. Democrats and at least two Republicans called the briefings inadequate, adding that officials did not provide enough details about why the attack was justified.
Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday that Soleimani “was traveling the region making plans to bring an attack against American personnel and American forces.” He said it was not possible to share full details of the intelligence with lawmakers.
“When it comes to intelligence we have to protect sources and methods, there’s only certain amount we can share with every member of Congress,” Pence said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “But those of us who have seen all the evidence know that there was a compelling case of imminent threat against American personnel.”
On Twitter Thursday, Trump urged House Republicans to vote against the resolution. And John Bolton, his former national security adviser, insisted the 1973 War Powers Act, which forms the basis of the Democratic resolution, is unconstitutional. “It reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Constitution allocated foreign affairs authority between the president and Congress” and should be repealed, Bolton tweeted Thursday.
The House vote was scheduled shortly Iran retaliated for the Soleimani killing by launching missiles at two military bases in Iraq that house American troops. No casualties were reported.
“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 her statement Wednesday.
“Congress hereby directs the President to terminate the use of United States Armed Forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran or any part of its government or military” unless Congress declares war on that country or enacts legislation authorizing use of force to prevent an attack on the U.S. and its forces, the five-page resolution says.
“I think it’s extremely important that we as a country, if we are going to — either intentionally or accidentally — slide into war, that we have a debate about it,” said freshman Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., the measure’s sponsor. Slotkin is a former CIA analyst and Pentagon official who served in Iraq.
“I want to understand … what’s your strategy?” she said, referring to the Trump administration. “How do you know you’re succeeding and not just escalating us into something more and more dangerous? We are owed concrete, specific details on strategy.”
Trump did not consult with congressional leaders ahead of the attack that killed the Iranian general and afterward sent Congress a notification explaining the rationale, but kept it classified.
Congress has allowed its war powers role to erode since the passage of Authorization for Use of Military Force in 2001 to fight terrorism after the 9/11 attacks, and passage of another AUMF for the invasion of Iraq in 2002.
Fallout from those votes deeply divided Congress and the nation, with many lawmakers, particularly Democrats, now saying they were mistakes. Yet Congress has been paralyzed on the question of whether to repeal or change those authorities.
Trump, facing one of the greatest tests of his presidency, said Wednesday that Iran appeared to be “standing down” and said the U.S. response would be to put in place new economic sanctions “until Iran changes its behavior.”
The strikes by Iran had pushed Tehran and Washington perilously close to all-out conflict and put the world’s attention on Trump as he weighed whether to respond with more military force.
Republicans have largely supported Trump’s actions, saying the president was well within his power to take out Iran’s architect of proxy operations against Americans in the Middle East. The U.S. considered Soleimani a terrorist.
Democrats were unconvinced that the threat posed by Soleimani was imminent or that other alternatives to the killing were pursued in good faith. By not disclosing many details of the threat, Trump was asking the American public to trust the very intelligence reports he has often disparaged, Democrats said.
Some Republicans also criticized the briefing by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top officials. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah said it was “probably the worst briefing I’ve seen, at least on a military issue,” in the nine years he’s served in the Senate.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said administration officials justified killing Soleimani based on the 2002 authorization of force in Iraq. “That is absurd. That’s an insult,” he said.
Like Lee, Paul said he would support the war powers resolution being offered by Kaine.