U.S. House votes to check Trump on military action against Iran

Senators Baldwin, Kaine cosponsor Senate version of war powers resolution

WASHINGTON, DC Protesters hold signs at the US Capitol on January 09. The House adopted a war powers resolution Thursday with the aim of limiting President Donald Trump’s military actions against Iran. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC Protesters hold signs at the US Capitol on January 09, as the House adopted a war powers resolution with the aim of limiting President Donald Trump’s military actions against Iran. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House voted Thursday on a resolution to curtail President Donald Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran without first securing congressional approval. 

The chamber voted 224-194, largely along party lines, to approve the resolution from Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), which would direct Trump to halt the use of U.S. armed forces for hostilities against Iran unless it’s authorized by Congress or it’s “necessary and appropriate to defend against an imminent armed attack” against the United States. 

“We have no trust in an administration that has provided zero evidence of an imminent threat to America, destroyed all diplomatic channels with Iran, and deployed over 15,000 additional troops to the Middle East since last May,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Black Earth) said in a statement after the vote. “The American people do not want an endless war with Iran, they want diplomacy and de-escalation.”

“Now, Congress must also move forward in passing Rep. Barbara Lee’s legislation to repeal the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Iraq and Rep. Ro Khanna’s legislation prohibiting funding for a war with Iran,” Pocan added. “Congress has been silent for too long—it’s time we reclaim our Constitutional authority over military action from presidents intent on fighting forever wars.”

The vote on the resolution came days after Trump ordered the killing of a top Iranian general, Qassim Suleimani, who was in Iraq at the time. Military officials said Suleimani had active plans to kill Americans, but Trump’s critics in Congress have said the evidence of such a threat hasn’t been sufficient to risk a U.S. war against Iran.

“Last week in our view the president, the administration conducted a provocative, disproportionate air strike against Iran, which endangered Americans and did so without consulting Congress,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Thursday ahead of the vote. “The administration must de-escalate and must prevent further violence. America and the world cannot afford war.”

Three Republicans and Michigan independent Rep. Justin Amash joined Democrats to vote for the resolution. Eight Democrats voted against the measure. 

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a staunch Trump ally, was among the Republicans who supported the Democratic-led effort. 

“If the members of our armed services have the courage to go and fight and die in these wars, as Congress, we ought to have the courage to vote for them or against them,” Gaetz said. “I support the president. Killing Suleimani was the right decision, but engaging in another forever war in the Middle East would be the wrong decision.”  

Another Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, said ahead of the vote that his decision to vote for the resolution wasn’t “about supporting or opposing President Trump.” 

Massie voted for Trump in 2016 and he plans to vote for him again, he said. “This vote is about exercising our constitutional authority, but more importantly, our moral obligation to decide when and where our troops are going to be asked to give their lives.” 

‘Constitutional responsibility’ 

Slotkin, a freshman Democrat and a former CIA analyst, said the resolution was more than a theoretical exercise for her. Slotkin’s husband is a U.S. Army veteran, her step-daughter is an Army officer and her son-in-law’s unit is stationed at Ain al-Assad air base in Iraq, which was targeted by Iranian missiles this week, she said. 

“If our loved ones are going to be sent to fight in any protracted war, the president owes the American public a conversation,” Slotkin said. She stressed that her resolution doesn’t tie the president’s hands when it comes to defending the United States. But when it comes to longer-term war, “We have a constitutional responsibility to authorize the use of military force.”

Many House Republicans lined up to defend the president ahead of the vote, as some accused Democrats of putting politics ahead of national security. 

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), a Marine veteran, accused his Democratic colleagues of pursuing a “political effort that will have the practical effect only of undermining our military deterrent in the Middle East.” 

The Senate could vote as early as next week on a similar resolution offered by Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine and cosponsored by Wisconsin Democrat Sen. Tammy Baldwin. 

 “The American people are sick and tired of sending young men and women to war in the Middle East,” Baldwin said in a statement. “The Constitution is very clear that only Congress has the authority to declare war and I support Senator Kaine’s resolution to ensure that President Trump comes to Congress first before pursuing any military action against Iran and starting another war in the Middle East.”

Kaine has been courting Republicans on his effort, which would direct Trump to remove U.S. forces from hostilities against Iran within 30 days unless authorized by a declaration of war or a specific authorization for the use of military force. 

Two Senate Republicans — Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.) — have said they will support the measure, The Hill reported. 

With Democrats (including two independents who caucus with the party) holding 47 seats in the chamber and interest among Republicans, there’s a chance Kaine’s resolution will get the 51 votes needed to clear the GOP-controlled Senate.

Kaine told reporters earlier this week, “We should jealously guard the power to initiate war, not let a president take that step on his own.” Regardless of the resolution’s passage, the Virginia Democrat said he wanted to use the opportunity to get senators on the record. 

“It’s ultimately calling on Congress to not be chicken,” he said.