By MATTHEW DALY and ALAN FRAM
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democratic-controlled House moved toward approving a non-binding measure Thursday aimed at limiting President Donald Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran as criticism of the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general intensifies
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the war powers resolution, which does not require Trump’s signature, nonetheless “has real teeth” because it is “a statement of the Congress of the United States. I will not have that statement be diminished by whether the president will veto it or not.”
The Democratic measure seemed certain to pass Thursday over solid Republican opposition. A similar proposal by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., faces an uphill fight in the GOP-run Senate. Kaine’s efforts received a boost Thursday as Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana, an ex-Marine, said he might support the war powers measure. Two other Republican senators said Wednesday they would back the Kaine plan.
“We are members of a separate and distinct branch of government. It is our duty not to take anyone’s word for things as we are dealing with matters of life and death,” Young said, adding that he wished Trump administration officials had provided more intelligence information during a briefing Wednesday on a U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian general.
Pelosi, in announcing the House vote, called the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani “provocative and disproportionate.”
Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, denounced the Democratic measure as little more than “a press release designed to attack President Trump,” noting that it has no binding effect and cannot be signed into law.
“This resolution only wastes our valuable time, plays politics with our national security and damages our ability to protect American lives and interests in the Middle East,” Scalise said.
The House vote comes a day after the Trump administration briefed lawmakers on its actions in Iran. Democrats and several Republicans called the briefings inadequate, adding that officials did not provide enough details about why the attack was justified.
Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday that Soleimani “was traveling the region making plans to bring an attack against American personnel and American forces.” He said it was not possible to share full details of the intelligence with lawmakers.
“When it comes to intelligence we have to protect sources and methods, there’s only certain amount we can share with every member of Congress,” Pence said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “But those of us who have seen all the evidence know that there was a compelling case of imminent threat against American personnel.”
Trump said Thursday that he “had calls from numerous senators and numerous congressmen and women saying it was the greatest presentation they’ve ever had.”
Referring to criticism by GOP Sens. Mike Lee and Rand Paul, Trump said, “They want information that honestly I think is very hard to get…It really had to do with sources and information that we had that really should remain at a very high level.”
Lee, a conservative from Utah, said the briefing by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other officials was “probably the worst briefing I’ve seen, at least on a military issue,” in the nine years he’s served in the Senate.
Paul, of Kentucky, said administration officials justified killing Soleimani based on the 2002 authorization of force in Iraq. “That is absurd. That’s an insult,” he said.
Pelosi scheduled the House vote shortly Iran retaliated for the Soleimani killing by launching missiles at two military bases in Iraq that house American troops. No casualties were reported.
“Members of Congress have serious, urgent concerns about the Administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran and about its lack of strategy moving forward,” Pelosi said.
“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 U.S. and its forces, the five-page resolution says.
“I think it’s extremely important that we as a country, if we are going to — either intentionally or accidentally — slide into war, that we have a debate about it,” said freshman Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., the measure’s sponsor. Slotkin is a former CIA analyst and Pentagon official who served in Iraq.
“I want to understand … what’s your strategy?” she said, referring to the Trump administration. “How do you know you’re succeeding and not just escalating us into something more and more dangerous? We are owed concrete, specific details on strategy.”
Trump did not consult with congressional leaders ahead of the attack that killed the Iranian general and afterward sent Congress a notification explaining the rationale, but kept it classified.
Congress has allowed its war powers role to erode since the passage of Authorization for Use of Military Force in 2001 to fight terrorism after the 9/11 attacks, and passage of another AUMF for the invasion of Iraq in 2002.
Fallout from those votes deeply divided Congress and the nation, with many lawmakers, particularly Democrats, now saying they were mistakes. Yet Congress has been paralyzed on the question of whether to repeal or change those authorities.
Trump, facing one of the greatest tests of his presidency, said Wednesday that Iran appeared to be “standing down” and said the U.S. response would be to put in place new economic sanctions “until Iran changes its behavior.”
The strikes by Iran had pushed Tehran and Washington perilously close to all-out conflict and put the world’s attention on Trump as he weighed whether to respond with more military force.
Republicans have largely supported Trump’s actions, saying the president was well within his power to take out Iran’s architect of proxy operations against Americans in the Middle East. The U.S. considered Soleimani a terrorist.
Democrats were unconvinced that the threat posed by Soleimani was imminent or that other alternatives to the killing were pursued in good faith. By not disclosing many details of the threat, Trump was asking the American public to trust the very intelligence reports he has often disparaged, Democrats said.
Young, in comments to reporters Thursday, said lawmakers “need to ensure that Congress is involved in future decision-making so we end up exactly where the president wants to end up, which is the avoidance of a major ground war in the Middle East.￼“
He called Kaine’s resolution ￼￼”a forcing mechanism to force us to debate this.”
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Deb Riechmann, Lisa Mascaro and Padmananda Rama contributed to this story.
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