WASHINGTON ― House lawmakers will begin deliberations and vote this week on a new war powers resolution designed to limit the president’s military actions against Iran, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Sunday.
The action is the latest flashpoint in a partisan rift over the U.S. strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani last week. It comes amid growing tumult in Washington, as lawmakers grapple with a highly charged impeachment trial against President Donald Trump and prepare for November’s presidential election.
The resolution also follows White House announcements that more than 3,000 troops are headed to the Middle East after a U.S. drone killed Soleimani, the head of an elite arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, on Iraqi soil last week.
Trump threatened Sunday on Twitter that the U.S. military will “quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner,” if Iran attacks Americans.
Democrats have already pushed back against that idea. The resolution would reassert Congress’ oversight responsibilities “by mandating that if no further Congressional action is taken, the administration’s military hostilities with regard to Iran cease within 30 days,” Pelosi said in a letter to congressional Democrats.
In a separate statement Saturday, she blasted the president’s actions and comments as “provocative, escalatory and disproportionate” and said it “continues to put servicemembers, diplomats and citizens of America and our allies in danger.”
Pelosi and other Democrats have argued the administration initiated hostilities without an Authorization for Use of Military Force, without consultation of Congress, and without the articulation of a strategy to either lawmakers or the public.
Pelosi said the resolution will be similar to the war powers authorization that Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., filed in the Senate that would require any hostilities with Iran be approved by Congress through a declaration of war or new war authorization. The resolution is "privileged,” which means Kaine can force a full-chamber debate and vote, though it was unclear Monday morning when that might happen.
Meanwhile, Republicans sought to bolster support for Trump. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Calif., said in a recent tweet that “while Democrats are trying to remove President Trump from office, the President is focused on removing terrorists from the face of the earth.”
Fox News reported that Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is circulating a resolution in the Senate that would commend the Trump administration for killing Soleimani. A vote on that could place Democrats in a difficult position of praising the president’s actions while simultaneously condemning them.
Democratic lawmakers have not only publicly complained that the strike may violate the executive branch’s authorities for the use of military force, but complained about the lack of advance notification by the White House, traditionally given to key congressional leaders, such as Pelosi, and heads of the Armed Services committees.
Under the War Powers Resolution in 1973, the president is required to notify Congress within 48 hours of any military action and prohibits the president from continuing that action for more than 60 days without an Authorization for Use of Force from Congress. It specifies that lawmakers must be informed “in writing, setting forth … the constitutional and legislative authority under which such introduction took place, and the estimated scope and duration of the hostilities or involvement.”
The law also requires the president “provide such other information as the Congress may request in the fulfillment of its constitutional responsibilities with respect to committing the nation to war and to the use of United States Armed Forces abroad.”
Two top Democrats ― Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Menendez and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer ― called for the Trump administration to immediately declassify the White House notification to Congress of the initiation of hostilities against Iran, pursuant to the War Powers Act of 1973.
Work on the House war powers resolution will be led by Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., who previously worked for the CIA and was an analyst for the Pentagon, where she specialized in Shia militias.
Some Democrats argue the underlying rationale for the strike was flawed. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Sunday he has not seen intelligence suggesting that killing Soleimani would prevent the planning of future attacks against the U.S.
“I don't think the intelligence supports the conclusion that killing a top Iranian official is going to either stop plotting or improve American security,” Schiff said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent comments that the strike saved American and European lives, Schiff said, was Pompeo’s “personal opinion, not an intelligence conclusion.” The attack on Soleimani, the lawmaker added, increased the risk of war with Iran.
Referencing the Iraqi parliament’s unanimous vote Sunday to expel U.S. forces from the country following the U.S. military strike, Schiff said that would complicate the U.S. fight against the Islamic State group in Syria “because we’re not going to be able to, I think, protect a small number of forces there."
“So we’re either going to have to send more forces or have to withdraw the forces that we have,” he said. “So strategically, I think we have already seen setbacks.”
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.