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House to vote on war powers Thursday

Two Senate Republicans side with Democratic measure after ‘insulting’ briefing

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., arrives at the Capitol Visitor Center for a briefing by administration officials for members of the House on the latest developments on Iranian airstrikes in Iraq on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., arrives at the Capitol Visitor Center for a briefing by administration officials for members of the House on the latest developments on Iranian airstrikes in Iraq on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Corrected 7:53 p.m. | The House will vote Thursday on a resolution that would limit President Donald Trump’s authority to take future military action against Iran without congressional authorization, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Wednesday.

House lawmakers received a briefing from key administration officials following the Tuesday night attack on two bases in Iraq that house U.S. troops and the preceding U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

“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.

The resolution, introduced Wednesday by Michigan freshman Elissa Slotkin, directs the president to end the use of U.S. military forces to engage Iran unless Congress has formally authorized action or if there is an “imminent armed attack upon the United States.” Slotkin is a former CIA analyst who served three tours in Iraq and represents a competitive district.

House Democrats exited their briefing unsatisfied with the administration’s threat rationale for the Soleimani strike and legal justification, the 2002 authorization for use of military force against Iraq.

“Members of Congress have serious, urgent concerns about the Administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran and about its lack of strategy moving forward. Our concerns were not addressed by the President’s insufficient War Powers Act notification and by the Administration’s briefing today,” Pelosi said.

The announcement comes as grumbling about the administration’s justification for the strike on Soleimani is picking up steam across the Capitol. Some of the members’ reaction to Wednesday’s briefing by the administration was not kind. 

Following the briefing, Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky were firmly supportive of a similar resolution offered by Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine, subject to some small amendments.

Lee called the Wednesday afternoon session “probably the worst briefing I’ve seen, at least on a military issue, in the nine years I’ve served in the United States Senate.”

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“One of the messages we received from the briefers was: Do not debate, do not discuss the issue of the appropriateness of further military intervention against Iran, and that if you do, you’ll be emboldening Iran,” Lee said. “I find this insulting and demeaning — not personally, but to the office that each of the 100 senators in this building happens to hold. I find it insulting and I find it demeaning to the Constitution of the United States to which we’ve all sworn an oath.”

Paul said he and Lee were “stepping up and saying we are not abdicating our duty.”

Paul took particular umbrage with public statements indicating that the targeting killing Friday could be justified using the 2002 Iraq AUMF, since the strike took place on Iraqi soil.

“They have justified the killing of an Iranian general as being something that Congress gave them permission to do in 2002,” Paul said. “That is absurd. That’s an insult.”

Lawmakers were still working out earlier in the day a process that would ensure the resolution will have a “privileged” status in the Senate and therefore will require action by the other chamber.

“The issue — if you look at what happened with the Yemen war powers, we passed it in the House, there was [a motion to recommit], the MTR passed and that de-privileged it in the Senate. And of course if it’s de-privileged McConnell won’t give it a vote,” Rep. Ro Khanna explained to reporters.

Khanna’s own House-passed war powers resolution on Yemen faced trouble in the Senate last year because the parliamentarian ruled that it was not privileged because of language added to the measure through a Republican motion to recommit, or MTR. The parliamentarian determined that the MTR language was too unrelated to the content of the underlying resolution for the measure to retain its privilege.

Democrats were concerned about a similar situation happening with the Iran war powers measure, so instead of filing it as a joint resolution, which requires an MTR vote, they filed it as a concurrent resolution, which does not.

The downside of a concurrent resolution is that it’s only a message from Congress and does not go to the president’s desk to be signed into law, as a joint resolution would. But since Trump likely would veto any war powers resolution that reaches his desk, a concurrent resolution accomplishes the goal Democrats are seeking, which is to show bipartisan support for asserting Congress’s power to authorize war.

Khanna said that there is some hope that some of the Republican senators who supported the Yemen war powers resolution last year would also support this new iteration.

The resolution will see action in the House Rules Committee on Wednesday evening before a vote slated for Thursday. Pelosi also announced that the House may soon consider a slate of related legislation, including a repeal of the 2002 Iraq AUMF from Rep. Barbara Lee and legislation from Khanna that would bar funding for military action against Iran not authorized by legislators.

Bridget Bowman, Lindsey McPherson and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this story.


This story has been corrected to reflect that legislation to repeal the 2002 Iraq AUMF and a bill to bar funding for military action against Iran not authorized by legislators will be considered separately from the Iran war powers resolution.


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