The House will vote on a war powers resolution Thursday to limit what military action President Trump can take against Iran after Democrats — and even a couple of Republicans — complained a Trump administration briefing on the justification for killing a top Iranian general came down to simply: Trust us.
Democrats said Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley provided few specific details in a closed door meeting Wednesday about what imminent threat existed that warranted the U.S. drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani.
Though there was some initial hesitancy among Democrats earlier in the day about moving to limit the president’s power in the aftermath of Iran’s missile strikes against U.S. forces in Iraq, by the end of the day House members said they were more determined that Congress needs to reassert its role in deciding when military force is necessary.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) announced the vote in a statement shortly after the meeting ended.
“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. Our concerns were not addressed by the president’s insufficient War Powers Act notification and by the administration’s briefing today,” Pelosi said.
The type of resolution the House will vote on has uncertain prospects in the GOP-controlled Senate. Congress has never successfully used the 1973 War Powers Act to halt a president’s use of the military, though it has been used to influence how long and under what conditions troops are engaged overseas.
Members of the House and Senate emerged from separate briefings Wednesday with vastly different versions of what information they learned from the administration to justify killing Suleimani, an act which dramatically ratcheted up hostilities with Iran for several days.
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said the evidence presented by the administration officials was so vague that it boiled down to “trust me.”
“I’m not sure that trust me is a satisfactory answer for me,” Engel said.
Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) called the briefing “sophomoric, and utterly unconvincing. And I believe more than ever the Congress needs to act to protect the constitutional provisions about war and peace.”
An angry Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) scolded the briefers, who he said spent only 75 minutes with the lawmakers. He said it was “insulting and demeaning” to both the lawmakers and the Constitution.
“It is not acceptable for officials within the executive branch to tell us whether we can debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention in Iran,” Lee said. “I would hope and expect they would show greater deference to their own limited power.”
Both Lee and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said that following the briefing they have decided to support a Senate version of the War Powers Resolution sponsored by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). He is expected to force a vote on that resolution as soon as next week.
Multiple Republican senators said that little of the information presented to lawmakers isn’t already public information and that few specifics were provided about the threat the Trump administration has said it was attempting to stop by killing Suleimani.
“They made the case there was an imminent plan and didn’t give a lot of details on that plan, but did give details on the timing that would have made it imminent,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). That timing was closer to days than weeks, he said.
Several lawmakers said the administration officials cited Article 2 of the Constitution, which tasks the president with being the commander in chief of the country’s military, and the Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed in 2002 before the invasion of Iraq as the legal justification for the strike that killed Suleimani.
“I see no way in the world that an authorization to have war with Saddam Hussein has anything to do with having war with people in Iraq today,” Paul said.
But Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a Trump confidant, said when he left the briefing that the information shared was compelling and decisive.
“I think it leaves little doubt in my mind and certainly should leave little doubt in any members mind that not only did the president make the right call, but this was a clear and present danger for American interests and American individuals,” Meadows said.
Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove) said the House vote is unnecessary and the president was acting decisively to protect the public.
“Congress gave that authorization in 2002 and has never rescinded it. So the president was not only acting entirely within his authority, he had a fundamental responsibility to protect U.S. military forces,” McClintock said.
Pelosi’s announcement comes just a day after Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi airbases where U.S. troops are stationed, damaging equipment and supplies, but causing no deaths. On Wednesday both Trump and Iran indicated they are prepared to back down without further escalation. But several House members said they aren’t convinced the hostilities have ended. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) said this is the time for Congress to reassert itself.
“I think many of us feel like that to the extent that we have the benefit of a pause in hostilities right now, that underscores the importance of using this time to move forward with some sidebars on this president’s authority before more bad things happen,” Huffman said.
Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson in Washington contributed to this article.