House Passes Resolution Aimed at Limiting War with Iran

The House on Jan. 9 approved a war powers resolution with a vote of 224-194 that calls for limiting the White House’s ability to direct combat actions against Iran. 

The vote is the first congressional referendum on the military flareup between the US and Iran in the first week of 2020. In that time, the US killed Iranian Quds Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Iran fired 16 rockets at Iraqi bases hosting American personnel. Tensions now appear to be de-escalating, though Iran and its proxies may continue more limited attacks on US interests.

Democrats framed the legislation as a means for keeping the situation under control. The resolution’s text notes the buildup of more than 15,000 additional US forces in the Middle East over the past eight months, Soleimani’s death, and Iran’s ballistic missile attack “risks significant escalation” between the two nations. 

The Pentagon still reserves the right to defend US assets against “imminent armed attacks,” and the US can still act against al-Qaeda and “associated forces,” the resolution adds.

“If the President wants to take us to war, he must get authorization from Congress,” said Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), who introduced the language. “This is simply what our Constitution requires. If our loved ones are going to be sent to fight in any protracted war, the President owes the American people a public conversation about why and for what ends.”

Republicans argued the resolution serves to embarrass President Donald Trump and downplays the threat Soleimani posed as the mastermind of Iranian proxy attacks that have killed hundreds of Americans. They also raised questions about whether the language has teeth, saying it wouldn’t go into force like a joint resolution, which follows the same path as a regular bill.

“The resolution before the House today is nonbinding,” Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said. “It is called a concurrent resolution. This resolution, if passed, won’t go to the President’s desk for signature. It won’t have the power of law.”

A Democratic aide said that if the House passes its concurrent resolution and Senate passes its own joint language, that strong opposition to action against Iran would have the same effect as if both chambers had passed a joint resolution.

Senators will take up their own war powers legislation as early as next week. National Journal reported Jan. 8 that Defense Secretary Mark Esper cautioned senators against debating new limits to war powers at an Iran briefing that day.

Some lawmakers have also called for repealing the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which allowed action against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, and to rescope the 2001 AUMF that broadly allows the Pentagon to target those who perpetrated or aided the 9/11 terror attacks.