House Democrats will take up legislation on Thursday to restrain President Donald Trump’s military actions amid hostilities with Iran, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced.
“Today, to honor our duty to keep the American people safe, the House will move forward with a War Powers Resolution to limit the President’s military actions regarding Iran,” Pelosi said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. She argued Trump “has made clear that he does not have a coherent strategy to keep the American people safe, achieve deescalation with Iran and ensure stability in the region.”
“Members of Congress have serious, urgent concerns about the administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran and about its lack of strategy,” Pelosi wrote.
The resolution, sponsored by freshman Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, a former CIA analyst, will be considered by the Rules Committee to set the parameters for the debate on Wednesday night.
The decision to move forward with the bill follows Pelosi’s initial announcement over the weekend that the House would take up a measure similar to one introduced in the Senate by Democrat Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, which calls for the removal of US armed forces from hostilities with Iran not authorized by Congress.
Earlier Wednesday, Democratic leaders were uncertain that the resolution would be ready for a floor vote this week, saying members were still finalizing the draft. Also at issue was whether to include two separate bills in the effort — one, sponsored by Rep. Ro Khanna of California to block funding for a war against Iran, and another led by Rep. Barbara Lee, also of California, to repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force in Iraq that the Trump administration has pointed to in the aftermath of its strike on top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.
Khanna and Lee’s bills were both included in the House-passed version of this year’s Defense Authorization Act, but they were later stripped from the language after negotiations with the Republican-held Senate. Pelosi left the door open to holding separate votes on the bills in the future, indicating in her statement they won’t be included in the resolution itself.
Her announcement came after top administration officials — including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, CIA Director Gina Haspel and acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire — briefed members from both parties about the situation Wednesday afternoon.
Some Democrats were still hesitant about supporting War Powers legislation after Tuesday night’s strikes by Iran, but any doubt evaporated after hearing the argument presented by the officials Wednesday, a source in the room said, adding that Democrats left the room incensed.
At the House briefing, the administration failed to convince congressional Democrats that the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force provided the legal authorization to conduct the strike that killed Soleimani, reaffirming the belief among several lawmakers that a legislative option like Lee’s bill must also be put on the floor as soon as possible, sources familiar with the meeting told CNN.
Details of the administration’s legal argument remain unclear, but it broadly hinges on the same argument used by the Obama administration to conduct operations against ISIS — a provision stating the President is authorized to use military force to defend the US against “the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”
US national security adviser Robert O’Brien told reporters last week that the killing of Soleimani was “fully authorized” under the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force.
During the briefing, Democrats also pressed officials for evidence behind the claim that Soleimani posed an imminent threat to US interests, with Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, even noting that Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayotallah Ali Khamenei, had not signed off on the attacks Soleimani had been plotting, per sources present. Schiff’s spokesman declined to comment.
The officials provided lawmakers with a general timeframe of when Soleimani’s attacks against US interests in Iraq and in the region had been planned, and Haspel detailed Soleimani’s long history of violence against American interests. While Republicans praised the White House’s handling of the situation after the briefing, Democrats were unimpressed.
“It was pretty unsatisfactory on the detail and lack of concrete plans,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, a Florida Democrat, said. “We did not get an answer as what the imminent threat was, and why now,” she added.
Senate Democrats are also hoping to proceed quickly with Kaine’s version of the War Powers resolution regarding Iran. He told CNN on Wednesday that he hopes to see action on it in the Senate as soon as next week, although the timeline may be complicated by the impending impeachment trial. As a privileged resolution, Kaine will be able to force a vote on the bill without support from Republican leaders.
Both the House and Senate versions of the bill invoke the War Powers Act, otherwise known as the War Powers Resolution of 1973.
The War Powers Resolution stipulates parameters of presidential and congressional war powers, including imposing procedural requirements to ensure that presidents keep Congress apprised of military decisions as well as provisions that provide Congress with a mechanism to suspend military operations initiated by the President in certain circumstances.
This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.