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U.S. House votes to check Trump on military action against Iran — What you need to know

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

North Carolina delegation splits along party lines

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.

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.”

With one exception (GOP Rep. Mark Walker, who did not vote, but who later issued a statement attacking the resolution), North Carolina’s delegation split along party lines in the vote, with the state’s Republican House members opposing the resolution and Democrats supporting the resolution to limit the president’s military power.

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.”

Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), a military veteran, said ahead of the vote, “Our founders vested in Congress the solemn responsibility of sending our sons and daughters to war.” He told his colleagues, “Do not believe the fear mongering; this resolution does nothing to prevent the president from protecting the nation against imminent threats.”

In a statement released after the vote, North Carolina Democrat David Price (pictured at left) explained his support of the resolution: “It’s clear that the President’s recklessness has made us far less safe, and all of this will be far worse if we stumble our way into another unnecessary war in the Middle East. I urge the Senate to join the House in passing this resolution—reinforcing Congress’ constitutional power to declare war.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said ahead of the vote that Suleimani “was a malign actor who masterminded the killings of many U.S. soldiers, but assassinating him has unleashed the dogs of war.”

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

“I’m afraid the reason we are here today again is out of pure opposition to this president and not to serious national security issues at hand,” said Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.).

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.”

Rep. Mark Meadows

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) warned that the resolution “emboldens our enemies to suggest that the American people are divided.” Meadows said, “At some point we have to stand up and let the long arm of justice go in and take out these terrorists.”

The Democrats’ resolution “curtails the president’s authority to protect American interests in the Middle East,” said Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio). “It would essentially tie the president’s hands behind his back as he tries to counter Iran’s shadow campaign against us.”

The Senate could vote as early as next week on a similar resolution from Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine.

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.

Robin Bravender is the Washington bureau chief for the States Newsroom network of which Policy Watch is a member.

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