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The powers of war: The House tries to limit Trump’s hostilities with Iran

Thursday’s House resolution directs President Trump to cease hostilities against Iran without consulting Congress. A similar resolution is being drafted in the Senate.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., does a television interview on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019.
Susan Walsh, Associated Press

Salt Lake City — As the conflict between the United States and Iran continued to simmer this week, with no clear end in sight, Congress took steps to begin reasserting its own war powers.

At the conclusion of several hours of debate, members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to limit President Donald Trump’s military action in Iran Thursday afternoon.

The resolution directs the President “to terminate the use of United States Armed Forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran,” unless there has been a congressional declaration of war or the military is needed “to defend against an imminent armed attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its Armed Forces.”

But the resolution is nonbinding — meaning the president is not legally obligated to comply — making it a more symbolic and mostly partisan disapproval of Trump’s escalation of tension in the Middle East. Although Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, said because the resolution comes from Congress, it does have “real teeth,” The Associated Press reported.

Introduced by freshman Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat representing Michigan’s 8th District and a former CIA officer and three-tour Iraq veteran, the resolution passed 224-194.

“This resolution is intended to make clear that, if the President wants to take us to war, he must get authorization from Congress,” said Slotkin in a statement Thursday.

A similar proposal in the Senate is being sponsored by Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat.

In the Senate, Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah — who has been ringing a “cowbell” of concern the last several days after the U.S. and Iran exchanged drone and missile strikes — said Thursday that he favors a similar resolution in the Senate.

The Deseret News Editorial Board argued Friday that the president should consult Congress before taking military action.

The first two articles of the U.S. Constitution establish that Congress has the power to declare war while identifying the president as commander in chief of the nation’s military. But that division of powers had become unclear by the 1960s, as several administrations conducted combat operations in Vietnam without a declaration of war.

The 1973 War Powers Resolution was intended to narrow the scope of the president’s war powers, without closing the door on his ability to respond rapidly to developing hostilities across the globe.

Congress authorized military operations during the war on terror and the war in Iraq through a pair of Authorization for Use of Military Force — AUMF’s — in 2001 and 2002, according to The Associated Press.

Thursday’s House resolution would further limit the president’s power against Iran without first conferring with Congress.

Breaking from heavily entrenched party lines, eight Democrats voted against Thursday’s resolution while three Republicans cast “yea” votes.

Freshman Rep. Ben McAdams of Utah’s 4th District, the Beehive state’s sole U.S. Congressional Democrat, voted “nay” with his Republican peers.

“The drone strike ordered by President Trump that killed Qasem Soleimani delivered justice to a murderous terrorist who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American service members,” Rep. McAdams said in a statement after the vote.

Later in the statement, McAdams said he did “firmly oppose any escalation of hostilities in the Middle East without a coherent and defined plan authorizing the use of military force.”