House Votes to Change Rules, Block Trump From A Preemptive Strike on Iran

In this Sunday, May 12, 2019 photo released by the U.S. Air Force, a B-52H Stratofortress aircraft assigned to the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 28th Expeditionary Aerial Refueling Squadron, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia,. The White House ordered the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf region on May 4. (Senior Airman Keifer Bowes, U.S. Air Force via AP)

By a vote of 251-170, the House of Representatives has moved forward an amendment to a spending bill that eliminates portions of an existing law that allows a president to use military force against aggressors. The bill lost some support after an earlier vote when Democratic lawmakers added some provisions at the eleventh hour.

The restrictive amendment is part of the larger Defense spending budget that also includes a 3.1 percent pay raise for military members and authorizes family leave for federal employees.

More than two dozen Republicans joined all but seven Democrats to pass the measure. The U.S. Senate will need to agree with the bill and pass it separately without changes before sending it to President Donald Trump for a signature or veto.

Trump has already promised to veto the legislation should it include the amendment that strips the president of authority to strike Iran preemptively.

“It’s a bill that I think Democrats should be happy with,” said Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA). Smith is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

“It’s not everything they want but we need to pass it to say, ‘This is our position,’ to move the ball in the direction we want,” Smith added.

A similar bill recently failed to gain support in the Senate, but war-weary members and a public that has shown no support for continued military conflict in the Middle East may have shifted enough senators to gain passage. The Senate was ten votes short the last time the legislation was heard in the chamber.

“On the floor, the bill has taken a radical turn left,” Mac Thornberry (R-TX) said. “There’s good and bad in this bill … but it’s moving in a direction that does make America less safe.”

Trump would retain the power to authorize limited military engagement in response to attacks from the Islamic Republic but would need Congressional approval for funding of any attack that was not in response to aggressive action.

Past presidents have relied on Authorizations for Use of Military Force, or AUMFs, to strike at targets using military might without authorization from Congress. Obama used AUMFs repeatedly in Afghanistan and Syria, including the use of a drone-fired missile to intentionally kill a U.S. citizen without having to follow procedures of authorization through Congress.

The AUMFs were initially authorized in 2002 and 2003 to justify the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. In particular, the use of faulty intelligence in authorizing strikes against Iraq has led to many lawmakers becoming reluctant to either authorize new AUMFs or change existing ones.

The current legislation would de-authorize the AUMFs and force the White House to come to Congress for approval before any federal dollars would be spent to attack Iran.

House Democrats have been seeking curbs to presidential power since Trump warned Iran that the US was “cocked and loaded” for a fight. Many Republicans and Democrats, along with a majority of Americans from all political circles, oppose escalating conflict with Iran.

We make it very clear that in order to get engaged in any military activities, we must have a new AUMF,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). “That is clear in our caucus.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) hopes the Senate will move the measure forward intact to avoid erroneous decision making, like what happened in the lead up to war with Iraq.

“One of the best ways to avoid bumbling into war- a war that nobody wants- is to have a robust, open debate and from Congress to have a real say,” Schumer said.

The Constitution grants Congress the sole power to declare war- something done only five times in U.S. history. The last declaration of war by Congress was against Romania in 1942. Since then, “military conflicts” and “police actions” have avoided the difficult and time-consuming process of gaining approval from both houses.

Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) have drafted a provision they hope will gain traction in the Senate that will similarly handcuff presidents use of AUMFs to strike targets without approval.

The House amendment was written by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL). Gates explained his deviation from most House Republicans alleging that it was high time Congress regained war powers and restricted presidential use of military force.

“We’re against forever wars,” Gaetz said. “We don’t think the president should be able to kee the United States in war or any type of conflict beyond 60 days.”

And so, when we go to war, my constituents will go, they will fight and they will win, but I want to make sure we’re going for the right reason and not just because this town seems to kind of be itching to go to war,” Gaetz added.