WASHINGTON ― Even with Congress busy with President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, Washington is taking action next week in the face of a possible war with Iran.
House Democrats are planning two votes to challenge Trump’s war powers, State Department officials are set to hold a previously canceled top-secret brief for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Trump may unveil a Middle East peace plan ahead of a meeting Tuesday with Israeli leaders.
The House plans to vote next Thursday on Rep. Barbara Lee’s standalone measure to repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, as well as Rep. Ro Khanna’s bill to prohibit funding for any military offensive against Iran without congressional approval. Both lawmakers are California Democrats.
The votes are seen not only as a rebuke of Trump’s unilateral action against Iran but a win for House progressives, who have spent years seeking limits on presidential authority. The Trump administration has claimed the 2002 AUMF legally justifies military action against the Islamic State group “in Syria or elsewhere.”
House Democrats plan to shield the bills from Republican procedural tactics that could split Democrats and force changes to the bill, as the GOP has successfully done on some of the most contentious measures of 2019, Politico reports.
The action comes as Trump, without congressional authorization, ordered a drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq. Administration officials say the airstrike did not require lawmakers’ permission, and that Soleimani led campaigns that have killed hundreds of American troops — and was planning more attacks. Critics in Congress say the administration manufactured the justification for a needless escalation with Tehran.
The Democratic-led House on Jan. 9 approved a measure to bar Trump from further military action against Iran without explicit authorization from Congress, while several senators have introduced similar proposals to reign in the president’s ability to attack Iran. Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 2020 presidential hopeful, has introduced a Senate version of Khanna’s bill.
The Trump administration is also facing new blowback from congressional Democrats for initially reporting that no service members were harmed in Iran’s retaliatory attack on Ain al-Asad base in Iraq, and only later disclosing that 34 service members were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries. Trump himself is being criticized for saying Wednesday that he didn’t consider the traumatic brain injuries reported by U.S. troops following an Iranian rocket attack to be serious.
“I’m not sure which is more infuriating ― that the Trump Administration lied and claimed that there weren’t injuries in the Iran missile strike or that once caught, Trump called the traumatic brain injuries ‘headaches,’ ” Sen. Chris Murphy, the top Democrat on the Senate subcommittee that handles matters related to the Middle East and counterterrorism, said in a Jan. 22 tweet.
The U.S. State Department’s special representative for Iran, Brian Hook is set to brief the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a classified setting on Tuesday morning, ahead of the afternoon start of Senate impeachment proceedings. On Jan. 15., the State Department canceled a briefing titled “U.S.-Iran Policy and Authorities for the Use of Force" as well as another on embassy security.
Tracking with the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” against Tehran, Hook on Thursday said if Soleimani’s successor, Esmail Ghaani, “follows a similar path of killing Americans, he will meet the same fate.”
“The president has made clear for years that any attacks against American personnel or interests in the region will be met with a decisive response,” he told the Asharq al-Awsat newspaper in Davos, Switzerland.
The State Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, Joey Hood, and its acting legal adviser, Marik String, are set to join Hook.
Trump, who is meeting with Israeli leaders next Tuesday at the White House amid the country’s unprecedented political deadlock, said he plans to release the plan “sometime prior” to the meeting. He said he spoke with Palestinians officials only “briefly” about the plan ― which they have preemptively rejected.
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.