The Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives has approved a resolution to limit Donald Trump’s ability to take military action in Iran, in a largely party-line vote that underscored the divisions in Washington over the crisis with Tehran.
The motion, sponsored by Democrat Elissa Slotkin, a former CIA agent, seeks to stop the president from taking further military action in the Middle Eastern country without getting approval from Congress, under the War Powers Resolution of 1973.
The resolution passed the House 224-194, with nearly all Democratic congressman voting for the measure, and Republicans opposing it. Eight House Democrats voted against, and three Republicans voted for the motion.
Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, a staunch defender of Mr Trump, especially in last year’s impeachment probe, was one of the Republicans who broke with the party, saying: “If our service members have the courage to fight and die in these wars, Congress ought to have the courage to vote for or against them.”
A parallel measure in the Republican-held Senate, introduced by Democrat Tim Kaine, is unlikely to pass the upper chamber. But Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, insisted that the House resolution had “real teeth”, telling reporters before Thursday’s vote: “America and the world cannot afford war.”
“Last week, in our view, the administration conducted a provocative, disproportionate air strike against Iran which endangered Americans, and did so without consulting Congress,” Ms Pelosi added.
Mr Trump said on Twitter earlier on Thursday that he hoped all House Republicans would “vote against crazy Nancy Pelosi’s war powers resolution”, and later told reporters that it would “depend on the circumstance” whether he would go to Congress before taking further military action against Iran.
“I don’t have to, and you shouldn’t have to . . . because you have to make split-second decisions sometimes,” he said.
On Thursday evening, Hogan Gidley, White House principal deputy press secretary, said: “This House resolution tries to undermine the ability of the US armed forces to prevent terrorist activity by Iran and its proxies, and attempts to hinder the president’s authority to protect America and our interests in the region from the continued threats.”
Mr Trump’s decision last week to kill Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, which triggered the current crisis between Washington and Tehran, has come under sharp criticism from both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill in recent days.
Speaking after a briefing by Trump administration officials for members of Congress on Wednesday, Mike Lee, a Republican senator from Utah, blasted the president’s advisers over their lack of transparency about the intelligence that led to the decision to kill Soleimani.
Standing beside Rand Paul, a Republican senator from Kentucky, Mr Lee called the briefing “probably the worst” he had received on a “military issue” during his nine-year congressional career.
Mr Lee’s comments were echoed by Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, who said: “The bottom line is this: I did not hear evidence of a specific imminent threat that would allow an attack without congressional authorisation. With consequences as serious as these, that is unacceptable.”
When asked about the criticism, Mr Trump said the senators “want information that, honestly, I think is very hard to get. It’s OK if the military wants to give it, but they didn’t want to give it.”
Mr Trump has repeatedly accused Ms Pelosi and Democrats of defending Soleimani, saying on Thursday: “I think that’s a very bad thing for this country. I think that’s a big losing argument, politically, too.”
On Tuesday night, Iran launched ballistic missiles at US forces in Iraq in retaliation for Soleimani’s death. But on Wednesday, Mr Trump signalled that the US would not respond militarily to the Iranian attack, saying the US would instead move ahead with “punishing economic sanctions” while it weighed “options in response to Iranian aggression”.
A Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted last week and published on Wednesday showed 47 per cent of US voters approved of Soleimani’s killing, with 40 per cent disapproving. Half of voters said the killing would make the US less safe, compared with 32 per cent who said it would make America safer.