Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, has moved to limit Donald Trump’s ability to launch further military action against Iran, as tensions escalated between congressional Democrats and the White House over the Middle Eastern crisis.
Ms Pelosi said late on Sunday that the lower house of Congress would hold a vote this week on a “war powers resolution” to have “military hostilities with regard to Iran cease within 30 days” unless authorised by lawmakers.
Mr Trump threatened at the weekend to attack 52 targets, including cultural sites, if Tehran retaliated for the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
The move by Ms Pelosi, who called last week’s strike on Soleimani “provocative and disproportionate”, comes as relations between Democrats on Capitol Hill and the US president are already highly fraught following Mr Trump’s impeachment. Mr Trump is now awaiting a trial on charges of abuse of power and contempt of Congress in the Republican-controlled Senate, where members of his own party are expected to acquit him and allow him to remain in office.
The Pelosi initiative follows Democratic attacks on the president for failing to brief lawmakers on the attack on Soleimani, despite its huge ramifications for US policy in the Middle East.
“As Members of Congress, our first responsibility is to keep the American people safe. For this reason, we are concerned that the administration took this action without the consultation of Congress and without respect for Congress’s war powers granted to it by the Constitution,” Ms Pelosi said in a letter to Democratic members of the House.
Earlier on Sunday, Mr Trump posted a tweet that irked Democratic lawmakers, claiming that he had no legal duty to inform lawmakers of any impending military moves.
“These Media Posts will serve as notification to the United States Congress that should Iran strike any US person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner. Such legal notice is not required, but is given nevertheless!,” the US president wrote.
The House foreign affairs committee, led by Eliot Engel, a Democrat congressman from New York, quickly retorted: “This Media Post will serve as a reminder that war powers reside in the Congress under the United States Constitution. And that you should read the War Powers Act. And that you’re not a dictator.”
Assuming it is approved, the House resolution on Iran is unlikely to be taken up by the Senate.
In an interview with ABC News on Sunday, Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, urged the creation of a “united American front . . . to keep Americans safe”. He said the administration had “all the authority we need to do what we’ve done to date” and would “continue to do things appropriately, lawfully, and constitutionally”.
US officials have defended the strike against Soleimani as a response to an imminent threat posed by the Iranian military commander, who was suspected of plotting attacks on American interests in the region. But officials have only provided limited details of any threat.
“I accept the notion that there was a real threat. The question of how imminent is something that I need more information on,” Mark Warner, the Democratic senator from Virginia and vice-chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, told NBC News. “Under administrations, Democratic and Republican alike in the past . . . you go through that process of working with your allies, you go through the process of consulting with Congress. You don’t always get it right, but you always try to be both strong and smart,” Mr Warner added.