Bipartisan bill aims to limit Trump's military options in Iran

President Donald Trump has vowed to veto the war powers resolution, which aims to terminate hostilities against Iran and reassert congressional power over military conflict.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. (center) speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington on Feb. 13, 2020 after the Senate passed a bill to limit President Trump's authority to launch military operations against Iran. Now approved by the House, Mr. Trump is expected to veto the bill.

Defying a veto threat, Congress has approved a bipartisan measure to limit President Donald Trump's authority to launch military operations against Iran.

The House gave final legislative approval to the measure Wednesday, 227-186, sending it to Mr. Trump. The president has promised to veto the war powers resolution, warning that if his "hands were tied, Iran would have a field day."

The resolution, sponsored by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., declares that Mr. Trump must win approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran. Senator Kaine and other supporters say the measure is not about Mr. Trump or even the presidency, but instead is an important reassertion of congressional power to declare war.

Six Republicans joined 220 Democrats and independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan to support the measure. Six Democrats and 180 Republicans opposed it. In the Senate last month, eight Republicans backed the resolution.

The resolution "sends a clear message that the American people don't want war with Iran and that Congress has not authorized war with Iran,'' said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

While tensions with Iran have abated since a U.S. drone strike that killed Iran's top general in early January, the resolution clarifying Congress' power to declare war is still important, Mr. Engel said.

"Congress doesn't have to wait until the president alone decides to use military force again,'' Mr. Engel told House members during floor debate Wednesday. "It's our responsibility to do something, because we know the tensions could flare up again at a moment's notice. Iran has not been deterred as the administration promised.''

Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, called the war powers measure "divisive and irresponsible" and based on a false premise.

"It orders the president to terminate hostilities against Iran. The problem is, for the other side, we are not engaged in hostilities in Iran,'' Mr. McCaul said.

If the U.S. military launches strikes in Iran, "I believe that the president would need to come before this body to ask for a new authorization" for the use of force, Mr. McCaul said. "But that is not what we are facing.''

The House vote marked a rare exertion of authority from Congress, which also moved to impose restrictions on U.S. involvement with the Saudi-led war in Yemen last year after U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in a gruesome murder at Saudi Arabia's consulate in Turkey. Mr. Trump promptly vetoed that measure.

The Democratic-controlled House passed a separate, nonbinding resolution on Iran in January, a few weeks before the Senate approved Mr. Kaine's resolution. Two-thirds votes in the House and the GOP-run Senate would be needed to override an expected Trump veto.

Mr. Kaine hailed the House vote.

"For years, Congress has abdicated its responsibility on matters of war, but now a bipartisan majority in both the Senate and House has made clear that we shouldn’t be engaged in hostilities with Iran without a vote of Congress,'' he said in a statement.

The legislation "doesn’t prevent the president from defending the United States against imminent attack," but instead "demands that the decision of whether or not we go on offense and send our troops into harm’s way should only be made after serious deliberation and a vote of Congress," Mr. Kaine added. "If President Trump is serious about his promise to stop endless wars, he will sign this resolution into law."

In a statement of administration policy, the White House said the resolution should be rejected "because it attempts to hinder the president’s ability to protect" U.S. diplomats, forces, allies, and partners, including Israel, from the continued threat posed by Iran and its proxies, including militia groups and foreign fighters in Syria.

"Iran has a long history of attacking United States and coalition forces both directly and through its proxies," the White House said, adding the congressional resolution could hinder Mr. Trump's ability to protect U.S. forces and interests in the region.

"This joint resolution is untimely and misguided. Its adoption by Congress could undermine the ability of the United States to protect American citizens whom Iran continues to seek to harm," the White House said.

Tehran responded to the U.S. attack on its top general, Qassem Soleimani, by launching missiles at two military bases in Iraq that house American troops. The attack caused traumatic brain injuries in more than 100 U.S. soldiers, the Pentagon said.

Democrats and Republicans alike criticized a briefing by the Trump administration shortly after the drone strike, saying U.S. officials offered vague information about a possible attack being planned by Iran but no substantial details.

Mr. Kaine has long pushed for action reasserting congressional power over military conflict. At the request of Republican senators, he removed initial language that targeted Mr. Trump in favor of a generalized statement declaring Congress has sole power to declare war. The resolution also directs Mr. Trump to terminate use of military force against Iran or any part of its government without approval from Congress and commends Mr. Trump for killing Mr. Soleimani, who was long designated a terrorist by the U.S.

"No one lamented the loss of Mr. Soleimani. No one," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. "That's not what this bill is about."

The resolution "is about our Constitution, the authority of this body to declare or not declare war," Mr. Hoyer added. "It ought to be the representatives of the people that take them to war, not a president – any president, Democrat or Republican. This is about our responsibility."

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.