- The House voted on Thursday evening to approve a war-powers resolution, which looks to bar President Donald Trump from taking any new military actions against Iran without congressional authorization. The Senate has yet to pass the concurrent resolution.
- The 224-194 vote was largely split along party lines and intended as a rebuke to the US military’s deadly strike last week on Iran’s top military leader, Qassem Soleimani, which has brought the US to the brink of war with Iran.
- Just three Republican House members, including the outspoken Trump supporter Rep. Matt Gaetz, supported the resolution. Eight Democrats voted against it.
- Trump didn’t inform or seek authorization from Congress before attacking Iran and said the strike was legal under his authority to defend the nation in the face of an imminent threat.
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The House voted on Thursday evening to approve a war-powers resolution, which looks to bar President Donald Trump from taking any new military actions against Iran without congressional authorization. The Senate has yet to vote on the concurrent resolution.
The 224-194 vote was split along party lines and intended as a rebuke to the US military’s deadly strike last week on Iran’s top military leader, Qassem Soleimani, which has brought the US to the brink of war with Iran.
Trump didn’t inform or seek authorization from Congress before the airstrike and said the strike was legal under his authority to defend the nation in the face of an imminent threat.
Just three Republican members, including the outspoken Trump supporter Rep. Matt Gaetz, supported the resolution. Gaetz said Trump’s strike against Iran was the “right decision” but that he didn’t want the US further entangled in “another forever war in the Middle East.”
“I represent more troops than any other member of this body. I buried one of them earlier today at Arlington,” Gaetz said during his floor speech on Thursday. “If the members of our armed services have the courage to go fight and die in these wars, as Congress we ought to have the courage to vote for or against them.”
Eight Democrats, seven of them freshman representatives, voted against the resolution. The Democrats were Reps. Anthony Brindisi, Max Rose, Joe Cunningham, Stephanie Murphy, Ben McAdams, Elaine Luria, Kendra Horn, and Josh Gottheimer.
Rose, a veteran from Staten Island, voted against the resolution, saying it “simply restates existing law and sends the message that war is imminent.”
He added in a statement, “I refuse to play politics with questions of war and peace, and therefore will not support this resolution.”
If the Senate also approves of the concurrent resolution, it doesn’t require the president’s signature. Comparatively, if it were a joint resolution, Trump could veto it. Since it’s a concurrent resolution, it is nonbinding and, Republicans say, primarily symbolic.
I represent more troops than any other member of this body. I buried one of them earlier today at Arlington.
If our servicemembers have the courage to fight and die in these wars, Congress ought to have the courage to vote for or against them.
I’m voting for this resolution. pic.twitter.com/cSCBG7CmIm
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) January 9, 2020
Democrats – and two Republican senators – were infuriated by a classified briefing they received from the Trump administration on Wednesday.
Republican Sen. Mike Lee called the briefing “insulting” and “demeaning” to his office and argued the administration wasn’t providing constitutionally required information about the imminent threat it said Soleimani posed.
Congress’ role in waging war
Under the War Powers Act of 1973, the president has 48 hours to inform Congress that US armed forces have been ordered to engage in operations overseas. These operations cannot last for more than 60 days without a congressional declaration of war or an authorization for use of military force (AUMF).
In recent years, discussions of presidential war powers have generally occurred in relation to the 2001 AUMF, which was directed at those responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks, and the 2002 AUMF, which paved the way for the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
These authorizations have been broadly interpreted by the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations, and effectively offered three presidents carte blanche for the US to wage the “war on terror” on multiple parts of the globe.
The 2001 AUMF alone has been used to justify at least 41 military operations in 19 countries under former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and Trump.
The Soleimani strike was justified by the Trump administration under the 2002 AUMF, but legal scholars have pushed against this.
“Relying on the law would require a conclusion that the threat from Soleimani, an Iranian government official, was posed by Iraq. In other words, relying on the law is as good as admitting there is no legal basis,” Oona A. Hathaway, a professor of international law at Yale Law School, recently wrote for The Atlantic.
- The 2001 AUMF – passed just days after the 9/11 terror attacks, with only one dissenting vote – authorized the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”
- The 2002 AUMF, approved on October 16, 2002, authorized “the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq.” The Iraq AUMF included language that authorized the president “to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to – (1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and (2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.”
Critics of both the 2001 AUMF and the Iraq AUMF have made the case that both are outdated and have been exploited by presidents to justify military operations that went well beyond the original intent of the resolutions.
Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, the sole lawmaker to vote against the 2001 AUMF, during debate over the war-powers resolution on Thursday said: “The American people do not want, and we cannot allow, another unnecessary war of choice in the Middle East.”
The dispute over presidential war powers strikes at the heart of the never-ending debate over separation of powers and checks and balances in the context of the US political system. Under the Constitution, Congress has the power to declare war and approve money for military operations, while the president is the commander in chief of the US armed forces.
Within this discussion, some have argued that the president should not be too constrained by Congress, in the sense he should have the capacity to respond quickly to imminent threats without having to go through a tedious legislative process.
Republicans have made this case in recent days while defending Trump over the Soleimani strike, though there are some in the GOP – such as Gaetz – who believe in limiting the president’s powers when it comes to military engagements.
On the other end of the discussion, there are those who worry that offering a president too much authority leads to abuse and ill-advised military operations, and such sentiments inspired Thursday’s war-powers resolution.