House votes to curtail Trump's Iran war powers, setting up veto fight

By Connor O’Brien

The House on Wednesday voted to curtail military action against Iran, the latest turn in a tussle over President Donald Trump's war powers after nearly a year of heightened tensions in the Middle East.

The war powers measure passed 227 to 186, next heads to Trump's desk. The resolution amounts to a legal slap on the wrist for Trump, who is certain to veto the resolution.

The Senate passed the measure, sponsored by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), in February. But neither chamber has passed the measure with nearly enough votes to overcome a veto.

The resolution calls for end to military hostilities against Iran without congressional authorization.

Democrats — and a handful of Republicans wary of expansive presidential powers — have been seeking to restrict Trump's aims on Iran since last year.

Those efforts gained steam in January after Trump ordered the killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani — which the administration argued came in response to an imminent threat — and a retaliatory missile attack by Iran against bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq.

Since then, the House has passed its own war powers resolution, which the Senate did not take up. House Democrats also pushed through legislation from progressive California Reps. Ro Khanna and Barbara Lee, respectively, to block funding for offensive military operations against Iran that aren't authorized by Congress and repeal the 2002 Iraq war authorization the administration employed to justify killing Soleimani.

Democrats have panned the Trump administration's legal and tactical explanations for the strike in the intervening months. House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) argued the legislation was still needed even though "tensions have ratcheted down" between the U.S. and Iran.

"The drafters of the War Powers Resolution accounted for the situation we are in today," Engel said on the House floor. "They were clear that Congress' powers are not as narrow as the administration would like us to believe, and apparently as some members of this body would like us to believe.

"The American people don't want war with Iran. Congress has not authorized war with Iran," he added. "That should be crystal clear."

But only six Republicans broke ranks to support the measure, well short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto. Only eight Senate Republicans supported the measure last month, passing the chamber with below the threshold to overturn a veto.

The vote comes amid reports that three people, including two U.S. troops, were killed in a rocket attack at Iraq's Camp Taji, just north of Baghdad. Army Col. Myles Caggins, a spokesperson for the U.S. mission against ISIS, said on Twitter that the base was hit with "more than 15 small rockets," but provided no additional details on the attack.

House Republicans, meanwhile, contended Trump had exercised restraint against Iran and called the resolution a partisan exercise.

"In my judgment, we are wasting precious legislative days and setting a terrible precedent of abusing war powers procedures," said Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Foreign Affairs Republican.

The measure was also hailed by advocacy groups aiming to restrain executive war powers and limit future overseas wars.

“The United States should always retain the capability to protect itself from threats, and it is important to note this measure does not prohibit the president from defending our country and our fellow Americans should they be threatened," said Nate Anderson, executive director of Concerned Veterans of America, a conservative veterans' group backed by the Koch family. "Rather, this is a positive step toward a better foreign policy that will better position America to prioritize American safety, engage productively in the world, and prevent endless wars with no clear mission or end goal.”

Defense policy legislation approved last year by the House included a provision, authored by Khanna and Trump ally Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), that would have required congressional authorization before taking military action against Iran. The provision was dropped from a compromise defense bill after opposition from the Republican Senate and the White House.

Progressive lawmakers are nonetheless predicting Iran will reemerge as a top issue when the House takes up its version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act this spring.