House votes on restraining Trump’s actions against Iran

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House voted yesterday on a measure limiting President Donald Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran as Democratic criticism of the United States (US) killing of a top Iranian general intensified.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, announced the vote in a one-page statement that said last week’s drone strike that killed General Qassem Soleimani was “provocative and disproportionate.”

The Democratic war powers resolution seems certain to pass over solid Republican opposition. A similar proposal by Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va, faces an uphill fight in the GOP-run Senate.

Because of a procedural dispute between the two parties, it was unclear whether yesterday’s vote would be a step toward binding Trump’s hands on Iran or a symbolic gesture of opposition by Democrats.

Republicans say the proposal — a special type of resolution that does not get the President’s signature — does not have the force of law. Democrats say that under the 1973 War Powers Act, it would be binding if also approved by the Senate. The matter has not been definitively decided by federal courts.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, arrives to meet with other House Democrats on the morning following Iranian attacks on bases in Iraq housing US troops, at the Capitol in Washington. PHOTO: AP

The House vote was scheduled shortly after a briefing on Iran on Wednesday by top administration officials that many Democrats criticised as lacking specific justification for the killing. Iran retaliated early on Wednesday local time 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.

“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 authorising use of force to prevent an attack on the US 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.’’

The showdown between the White House and Capitol Hill was the latest example of Trump’s willingness to break the norms in Washington. 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 Authorisation 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 paralysed on the question of whether to repeal or change those authorities.