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House Votes 'No War Against Iran,' In Rebuke To Trump

The Republican-led Senate isn't expected to take up the measures passed Thursday, and the White House has signaled that President Trump would veto them.
J. Scott Applewhite
The Republican-led Senate isn't expected to take up the measures passed Thursday, and the White House has signaled that President Trump would veto them.

The House has approved two measures seeking to limit the president's ability to take military action without congressional approval.

The first piece of legislation, known as the No War Against Iran Act, would block funding for military force in or against Iran unless Congress has signed off. The measure, introduced by Rep. Ro Khanna of California, passed by a vote of 228-175.

The second, introduced by fellow California Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, would repeal the 2002 authorization for use of military force (AUMF) that ushered in the war against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. It passed 236-166, with the support of 11 Republicans.

But the votes might be largely symbolic. The Republican-led Senate isn't expected to take up the measures, and the White House has signaled that President Trump would veto them. They are a rebuke of Trump's recent military actions in Iraq against Iran and Iran-linked targets, which were carried out without congressional authorization.

"Our soldiers deserve the dignity of a debate when they should go to war," Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, told lawmakers ahead of the votes.

The voting took place on the same day that Iraq said it would resume military cooperation with the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS. Earlier this year, the Iraqi government suspended the joint actions, and its parliament voted to demand that U.S. troops withdraw after the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.

In a tweet Wednesday, President Trump encouraged House members to "vote their HEART" on the legislation. Later in the day, he had a somewhat different message. "With Votes in the House tomorrow, Democrats want to make it harder for Presidents to defend America, and stand up to, as an example, Iran. Protect our GREAT COUNTRY!" he tweeted.

"America will not be safer, we will be weaker," Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters.

The 2002 AUMF gave the president the authority to "defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq." Since then, it has been used to justify other U.S. military actions, including the strike against Soleimani.

"Saddam Hussein is dead. His government and regime are long gone," Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., told House lawmakers on Thursday. "This war authorization has no relevance to present-day Iraq. It should be repealed, not used to launch more military action."

Congress wasn't officially notified before the strike against Soleimani, which rankled some members and ushered in this legislation.

The U.S. has relied on another AUMF — which was passed in 2001 and authorized the president to use force against those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks — to legally justify its military actions against the Islamic State in multiple countries and against the Assad government in Syria.

In a statement signaling that it would veto this particular measure, the White House said, "The 2002 AUMF has long been understood to authorize the use of force for, among other purposes, addressing threats emanating from Iraq, including threats such as ISIS ... as well as threats directed by Iran."

In recent years, lawmakers from both parties have occasionally expressed unease that the White House continues to use laws passed nearly two decades ago as a justification for continued military action. As NPR has reported, legal experts have noted that presidential war powers have dramatically expanded in the years since the Sept. 11 attacks, with little outcry from lawmakers.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.