CAPITOL HILL - More than two months after a U.S. airstrike killed Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, increasing tensions between the United States and Iran and renewing discussion about presidential war powers, U.S. lawmakers are finally sending new ground rules to President Donald Trump.
By a 227-186 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed the Iran War Powers Resolution that the U.S. Senate approved 55-45 last month. The resolution enforces the 1973 War Powers Act, requiring presidents to seek congressional approval for military engagements abroad that extend past an initial 60-day time frame.
Trump is expected to veto the resolution, which did not garner the two-thirds support of the Senate needed to override his actions.
Trump tweeted about his opposition to the measure last month:
It is very important for our Country’s SECURITY that the United States Senate not vote for the Iran War Powers Resolution. We are doing very well with Iran and this is not the time to show weakness. Americans overwhelmingly support our attack on terrorist Soleimani....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2020
Trump has also said the American public overwhelmingly supported his decision to order the airstrike that killed Soleimani:
....If my hands were tied, Iran would have a field day. Sends a very bad signal. The Democrats are only doing this as an attempt to embarrass the Republican Party. Don’t let it happen!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2020
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel noted the lag between the airstrike on Soleimani and final passage of the resolution in floor remarks Wednesday.
“Some will say this resolution is no longer needed, or has no legal effect, because we are not shooting in Iran today. They say we are not in hostilities with Iran,” Engel said. “But that's not an accurate reading of the law. The drafters of the War Powers Resolution accounted for the situation we're in today. They were clear that Congress's powers are not as narrow as the administration would like us to believe.”
The Trump administration, in part, used the 2002 Authorization of Military Force (AUMF) that was passed for military action in Iraq to justify the airstrike on Soleimani. Engel said that justification — passed 18 years ago for a completely different country — could not be applied to the current situation.
But Republicans say the resolution is an attempt by Democrats to attack Trump.
“This political war powers resolution is based on a false premise,” Representative Michael McCaul, the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Wednesday. “It orders the president to terminate hostilities against Iran. The problem is, for the other side, we are not engaged in hostilities in Iran.”
During testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on February 28, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told McCaul the U.S. was not engaged in hostilities with Iran. McCaul said he believed the president would be required by law to ask for congressional approval if he ordered airstrikes against Iran.
“This text completely ignores the remarkable restraint that the president has shown over the past few months. He is using force only when necessary to protect American lives,” McCaul said.
U.S. presidents of both parties have tested the limits of their war-making powers, particularly since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks increased conflicts with nonstate terror threats. Congress holds the power to declare war under the U.S. Constitution and has often tried and failed to reassert its authority in the two decades since those attacks.
Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, one of the Senate co-sponsors of the resolution, argued in February that “war is the most solemn responsibility we have. We have a special obligation to make sure that we deliberate, and deliberate carefully, before we send troops into harm's way.”
Kaine added, “This president and every president always needs the ability to defend the United States against imminent attack without asking for anybody's permission. I think the world knows we will do that. This body, though, is the body that needs to decide if we go on offense and engage in military action.”
The House passed two additional pieces of legislation addressing the possibility of conflict with Iran earlier this year.
If passed by the Senate, one bill would allow lawmakers to withdraw funds for military actions taken without congressional approval. The other bill would trigger a repeal of the 2002 Authorization of Military Force.