BY : SHRUTI SHARMA
The Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives has approved a resolution to limit Donald Trump’s ability to take military action in Iran, in a largely party-line vote that underscored the divisions in Washington over the crisis with Tehran. Lawmakers have grown increasingly angry over Trump’s shifting justifications for a Jan. 3 strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s most important general, and sent the two nations to the brink of war.
The mostly symbolic but politically charged vote, 224 to 194, was largely along party lines in US House, with three members of Trump’s Republican Party joining Democrats in approving the measure demanding the president not engage in military action against Iran unless authorised by Congress.A torrent of shifting statements from administration officials in the past week on the reasons for General Suleimani’s killing had also privately rankled Republican lawmakers. On Monday, the narrative collapsed entirely when Trump tweeted that the focus on whether General Suleimani was planning an imminent attack on American interests, as the administration had initially claimed, was irrelevant. “It doesn’t really matter,” he wrote, “because of his horrible past.”
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The Republicans’ decision to back the resolution, put forward by Sen. Tim Kaine, follows a contentious decision by the president to kill a top Iranian military commander in Baghdad earlier this month. The administration has defended the operation as vital, even in the face of bipartisan frustration on Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers have chastised Trump and his senior advisers for taking such provocative action without consulting them first — and for refusing to say when they might seek Congress’s authorization before conducting similar strikes in the future.
The five-page resolution says “Congress hereby directs the President to terminate the use of United States Armed Forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran or any part of its government or military” unless Congress declares war on that country or enacts legislation authorizing use of force to prevent an attack on the US and its forces. Kaine filed a draft of his resolution the day after the Iranian commander, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, was killed in a US drone strike, and he has been working with Republicans to amend the measure so they would support it.
Kaine introduced the measure, which invokes the War Powers Act of 1973, as a privileged joint resolution, which allows him to force a vote on the measure and win over the support of a simple majority of senators. With 45 Democrats in the Senate and two independents who routinely vote with them, Kaine needed just four Republicans to sign on.
The War Powers Act stipulates parameters of presidential and congressional war powers, including imposing procedural requirements to ensure that presidents keep Congress apprised of military decisions as well as provisions that provide Congress with a mechanism to suspend military operations initiated by the President in certain circumstances.It was enacted after Congress overrode a veto from then-President Richard Nixon and is aimed at reining in a president’s authority to engage the US in military action without congressional approval.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1983 that to have legal effect, an action of Congress must be presented to the president for his signature or veto.The motion, sponsored by Democrat Elissa Slotkin, a former CIA agent, seeks to stop the president from taking further military action in the Middle Eastern country without getting approval from Congress, under the War Powers Resolution of 1973.But even Kaine’s legislation, considered to be the stronger of the measures, has its limitations.
The War Powers Resolution restricts actions only by the United States military, so it would not stop Trump from carrying out targeted attacks on Iranian military leaders or other discrete operations, as long as he carried them out covertly under the authority of the C.I.A. The resolution, which would give Trump a 30-day deadline to come to Congress for authorization for military action in Iran, would still need to be passed by the House. And it would be unlikely to overcome a veto from the president.One additional exception outlined in the resolution is if the use of armed forces “is necessary and appropriate to defend against an imminent armed attack upon the United States.”
The fate of the resolution is uncertain in the Senate. Republicans in US House hold 53 of the chamber’s 100 seats and rarely vote against the president. But at least two Republican senators – Rand Paul and Mike Lee – have expressed support for the measure. Congress can only do so much depending on how the administration interprets the various restraints that are passed. If Kaine’s measure is approved and signed into law, for example, it’s possible the administration could attempt to bypass it.The vote on this resolution follows a briefing from the Trump administration about the airstrike against Soleimani that’s since prompted criticism from both Democrats and Republicans in US House.