House of Representatives passes two measures limiting Trump’s ability to go to war with Iran

People participate in a protest in Times Square against military conflict with Iran on January 08, 2020 in New York.

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The Democratic-led House of Representatives voted on Thursday to approve two measures that will constrain President Donald Trump’s ability to go to war with Iran.

One of the measures would block funding for any use of offensive military force in or against Iran without congressional approval. It passed 228-175. 

The other would repeal the 2002 resolution that authorized military force against the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and has since been invoked by successive presidents pursuing fights against new enemies. It passed 236-166.

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran are still high following the deadly American strike on Gen. Qasem Soleimani, a top Iranian military official, earlier this month. That strike prompted the Iranians to retaliate with missile attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq.

Democrats, wary of getting bogged down in a new Middle East conflict, have sought to require Trump to seek authorization for future uses of military force.

Trump has threatened to veto both measures, though on Wednesday he took to Twitter to urge members of both parties to “vote their HEART.”

The first measure passed on Thursday, sponsored by Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., would block the Trump administration from using any federal funds for military force in Iran unless Congress first declares war. Presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a companion resolution in the Senate.

Khanna, alongside Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., had proposed a similar amendment to the annual must-pass defense spending bill, but it was not included in the final version that Congress approved late last year.

“After authorizing a disastrous, $738 billion military budget that placed no restrictions on this president from starting an unauthorized war with Iran, Congress now has an opportunity to change course,” Khanna and Sanders said in a statement ahead of the resolution’s passage. “Our legislation blocks Pentagon funding for any unilateral actions this president takes to wage war against Iran without Congressional authorization.”

The second measure, to repeal the 2002 Iraq war authorization, was led by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and co-sponsored by 131 Democrats, two Republicans and the independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan.

In an interview Thursday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Lee discussed her resolution and said that she did not believe Trump “understands or believes that this is a democracy.”

“Congress has the responsibility of making sure that we insist that we uphold our Constitutional responsibilities, and make sure that we hold any president, now it’s this president, accountable,” she said.

The Constitution grants Congress the authority to declare war, but presidents in the modern era have largely sidestepped lawmakers. The last congressional declaration of war was passed in 1942, against Romania.

Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) speaking about the situation in Iran and Iraq at a press conference organized by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), Jan. 8, 2020.

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The Trump administration has vigorously opposed both resolutions, calling them “misguided” and warning that they would “undermine the ability of the United States to protect American citizens.” Referring to the Khanna amendment, the administration wrote the measure could “perversely make violent conflict with Iran more likely” by undermining American deterrence efforts.

It’s not likely that the measures will become law. Besides the possibility of a veto, a Republican-held Senate could also stop them. The GOP holds 53 seats of the 100-member body. Republicans have for the most part lauded the president’s actions in Iran, and have also criticized Democrats for the manner in which they introduced the anti-war measures.

Rather than introduce the resolutions as standalone bills, the sponsors have tacked them on as amendments to legislating relating to commemorative WWII coins that has already passed in the Senate. Republicans have accused Democrats of doing so to limit their ability to debate or amend the resolutions.

“There is a difference between our two parties. And there is no better example than the tactic used today,” Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on the House floor ahead of voting.

The 2002 military force authorization is separate from the more expansive resolution passed in 2001, just days after the September 11 attacks, which authorized force against all those who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the individuals who coordinated the strikes.

The 2001 resolution has been used as an authority for 41 operations in 19 countries, according to a 2019 report by the Friends Committee on National Legislation, an anti-war advocacy group.

The 2002 resolution was used by the Obama administration as an “alternative statutory basis” for the campaign against the Islamic State and by the Trump administration to assert authority for the use of force in “Syria or elsewhere,” the report found.

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