On January 9, the House of Representatives voted 224 to 194 to limit President Trump’s ability to engage in hostilities against Iran under the 1973 War Powers Resolution. The vote came after Trump authorized the killing of Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Qods Force. Many Democrats and a smaller number of Republicans thought Congress should have been consulted or notified about the operation because the drone attack could have sparked a wider armed conflict. The vote was largely along party lines. All but eight Democrats supported the resolution. All but three Republicans opposed it.
The new resolution directed the president to “terminate the use of United States Armed Forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran or any part of its government or military,” except when necessary to defend against an imminent armed attack.
The War Powers Resolution of 1973 was meant to limit President Richard Nixon’s powers toward the end of the Vietnam War. It says that any forces engaged in hostilities outside the U.S. "shall be removed by the President if the Congress so directs by concurrent resolution." The President must end hostilities within 60 days, with an additional 30-day withdrawal period “if the President determines and certifies to the Congress in writing that unavoidable military necessity respecting the safety of United States Armed Forces requires the continued use of such armed forces in the course of bringing about a prompt removal of such forces.”
Democrats made the act a “concurrent resolution,” which did not require the president’s signature for approval. “This is a statement of the Congress of the United States. I will not have that statement diminished by having the president veto it or not,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. The resolution was slated to go to the Senate next. The text of the resolution is below, followed by Congressional remarks.
Directing the President pursuant to section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution to terminate the use of United States Armed Forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran.
SECTION 1. TERMINATION OF USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES TO ENGAGE IN HOSTILITIES IN OR AGAINST IRAN.
(a) FINDINGS.—Congress makes the following findings:
(1) The Government of Iran is a leading state sponsor of terrorism and engages in a range of destabilizing activities across the Middle East. Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was the lead architect of much of Iran’s destabilizing activities throughout the world.
(2) The United States has an inherent right to self-defense against imminent armed attacks. The United States maintains the right to ensure the safety of diplomatic personnel serving abroad.
(3) In matters of imminent armed attacks, the executive branch should indicate to Congress why military action was necessary within a certain window of opportunity, the possible harm that missing the window would cause, and why the action was likely to prevent future disastrous attacks against the United States.
(4) The United States has national interests in preserving its partnership with Iraq and other countries in the region, including by—
(A) combating terrorists, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS);
(B) preventing Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability; and
(C) supporting the people of Iraq, Iran, and other countries throughout the Middle East who demand an end to government corruption and violations of basic human rights.
(5) Over the past eight months, in response to rising tensions with Iran, the United States has introduced over 15,000 additional forces into the Middle East. The killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, as well as Iran’s ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases, risks significant escalation in hostilities between the United States and Iran.
6) When the United States uses military force, the American people and members of the United States Armed Forces deserve a credible explanation regarding such use of military force.
(7) The War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1541 et seq.) requires the President to consult with Congress ‘‘in every possible instance’’ before introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities.
(8) Congress has not authorized the President to use military force against Iran.
(b) TERMINATION.—Pursuant to section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1544(c)), Congress hereby directs the President to terminate the use of United States Armed Forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran or any part of its government or military, unless—
(1) Congress has declared war or enacted specific statutory authorization for such use of the Armed Forces; or
(2) such use of the Armed Forces is necessary and appropriate to defend against an imminent armed attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its Armed Forces, consistent with the requirements of the War Powers Resolution.
(c) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION.—Nothing in this section may be construed—
(1) to prevent the President from using military force against al Qaeda or associated forces;
(2) to limit the obligations of the executive branch set forth in the War Powers Resolution (50
17 U.S.C. 1541 et seq.);
(3) to affect the provisions of an Act or joint resolution of Congress specifically authorizing the use of United States Armed Forces to engage in hostilities against Iran or any part of its government or military that is enacted after the date of the adoption of this concurrent resolution;
(4) to prevent the use of necessary and appropriate military force to defend United States allies and partners if authorized by Congress consistent with the requirements of the War Powers Resolution; or
(5) to authorize the use of military force.
Speaker of the House, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
"We will debate on the floor of the House," Pelosi, D-Calif., pledged. "We have no illusions about Iran, no illusions about Soleimani, who was a terrible person. But it's not about how bad they are, it's about how good we are, protecting the people in a way that prevents war and will not have us producing again and again generations of veterans who are suffering."
"This is a statement of the Congress of the United States and I will not have that statement be diminished by whether the president will veto it or not.”
—Jan. 9, 2020, in a statement before the vote
House Minority Leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)
"Instead of working with the administration to make America stronger, Democrats are working against us to make us weaker. Make no mistake: today's War Powers Resolution cannot become law. By definition, it will never be sent to the president, and it will never limit his constitutional authority to defend the American people."
—Jan. 9, 2020, in a statement before the vote
The War Powers resolution that Democrats just voted for has as much force of law as a New Year's resolution.— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) January 9, 2020
If President Trump’s instinct is to put America first, Democrats' instinct is to BLAME America first. https://t.co/AZfA5DXT5g— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) January 9, 2020
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY)
We need Senator Kaine’s bipartisan War Powers resolution now more than ever.— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 9, 2020
President Trump’s erratic and impulsive decisions have made Americans less safe.
Congress must hold the president accountable and assert our authority over matters of war and peace. pic.twitter.com/KRPWrgOM44
House Minority Whip, Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA)
🚨 BREAKING → House Dems just voted to undermine our military as they work to take out evil terrorists and protect America.— Steve Scalise (@SteveScalise) January 9, 2020
Dems would rather stand with Iran than the United States—all because of their personal disdain for @realDonaldTrump. Unbelievable.
Once again Dems are wasting time on stunts that don't actually do anything.— Steve Scalise (@SteveScalise) January 9, 2020
Pelosi's War Powers Resolution can't even become law. It's just a press release to attack @realDonaldTrump.
Enough already. This isn’t complicated: Soleimani was a brutal terrorist who deserved to die. pic.twitter.com/gXwo5x0r7O
Chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY)
"We don’t get authority over war powers if the President says so. We get authority over war powers, period. That’s our authority. So let’s put that fiction to rest."— House Foreign Affairs Committee (@HouseForeign) January 10, 2020
Chairman @RepEliotEngel shuts down #WarPowersResolution myths.👇
Watch his full remarks: https://t.co/Yw3aY2L0yG pic.twitter.com/LWHqbxev8w
The American people don't want war with Iran. With the measure before us today, we are denying the Pres. the authority to wage such a war.— Eliot Engel (@RepEliotEngel) January 9, 2020
I spoke in support of #WarPowersResolution that would direct Trump to terminate use of armed force against Iran.https://t.co/1FSYOTPJHa
I think the actions over the last week have been reckless & have jeopardized our security rather than enhancing it. The Constitution entrusts the Congress with the authority to declare war & the American people do not want another war.— Eliot Engel (@RepEliotEngel) January 9, 2020
Watch my testimony at @RulesDemocrats👇 https://t.co/y1TlKdz5Hf
Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX)
"The Democrats' non-binding War Powers resolution is a political messaging exercise. It will never become law, but will show a divided America when we should present a united front to our enemies & for our troops." -LR @RepMcCaul— House Foreign Affairs GOP (@HouseForeignGOP) January 9, 2020
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD)
"We must use this tool of congressional tool of congressional power, or by our silence acquiesce to the growth of the imperial presidency.”
—Jan. 9, 2020, in a statement before the vote
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
To the Iranians: Please understand this will not stop President Trump in any fashion from doing what he said he would do if you continue to engage in hostilities against the U.S. or our allies.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 10, 2020
You move forward at your own peril.
To the House Dems and GOPers who voted for this resolution: You have done nothing to legally restrict President Trump’s power as Commander in Chief. Unfortunately however, you have increased the likelihood of conflict.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 10, 2020
At the end of the day, this House vote is meaningless when it comes to President @realDonaldTrump ‘s ability to protect the nation and only serves as an inducement for Iran and other radical Islamic elements to become more provocative.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 10, 2020
Representative Elissa Soltkin (D-MI)
This bill aims to "remind everybody that we should be debating things like war and peace and we should be following the Constitution."
—Jan. 9, 2020, in a statement before the vote
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY)
"For probably 70 some odd years now, we've been having a debate in our country, if not longer about who has ... the power to declare war. Our Founding Fathers ... were quite explicit that they wanted the power to be in Congress, not in the executive branch."
"Both parties are at fault here. It isn't just Republicans. President Obama usurped the war powers. Bush did it. Truman, LBJ, you name it. It's hard to find a president who hasn't done it, but Congress has abdicated that role."
—Jan. 9, 2020, in an interview with Fox News
Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT)
My colleagues and I are tired of endless wars. That is why we introduced the No War Against Iran Act. We must learn from our mistakes, not repeat them. pic.twitter.com/S6d7CILsMj— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) January 9, 2020
Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC)
Unfortunately, some Democratic members of Congress who are unsupportive of the strike on Soleimani are pushing for a War Powers Resolution. If passed with veto-proof majorities, the resolution would compel the president to remove American forces “from hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran or any part of its government or military within 30 days,” unless Congress authorizes further military action.
To be clear, America did not provoke Iran. America eliminated a notorious terrorist leader 15 miles from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad – sovereign U.S. soil – days after Iranian militias he commanded attacked it. Our retaliatory action does not meet the threshold required under the War Powers Act.
The resolution is dangerous, causing America to relapse to the failed Obama-era posture of appeasing Iran.
The resolution would signal to the Iranian ayatollahs that when they send the new head of the Quds Force to another nation to export terror with impunity and attack Americans and American interests, they need not fear. It would signal that America will only respond when Iran and its proxies ratchet up the level of attacks on Americans far beyond what we have seen in the last few weeks.
The good news is that this restrictive resolution has little if any,chance of passing Congress with veto-proof majorities.
—Jan. 9, 2020, in an op-ed on Fox News
Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT)
Here's my feeling - they wanted to take out Soleimani (and there was ample reason); they didn't have congressional authorization; so they inflated the intel on an "imminent attack".— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) January 10, 2020
The result is an unconstitutional, dramatic expansion of presidential discretion to start wars.
Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY)
Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats hate @realDonaldTrump so much they won’t even stand with him when he kills the world’s deadliest terrorist.— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) January 9, 2020
The War Powers Resolution just introduced by @RepSlotkin dishonors every member of America’s armed forces by equating Iranian attacks against our men and women in uniform with U.S. action to kill the world’s deadliest terrorist. #Disgrace— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) January 8, 2020
Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA)
I’ve been a member of the Intel Committee for over a decade.— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) January 10, 2020
Been briefed hundreds of times on threats — some imminent, some not. When targeting a top gov’t official for killing:
“We don’t know precisely when and we don’t know precisely where,” does not constitute “imminent.” https://t.co/1sL8uEVDWI
The Constitution is clear:— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) January 9, 2020
Congress—not the President—has the power to declare war.
The House JUST voted to reassert our constitutional duty and rein in a reckless president.
He has isolated us from our allies, increased the risk of a nuclear-armed Iran, and made us less safe. pic.twitter.com/imKsEkumPX
Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT)
Much of our nation’s recent interactions with Iran, both military and diplomatic, have been carried out by the executive with no congressional authorization. At a briefing last week, the administration — like other administrations of both parties before it — was infuriatingly dismissive of the role of Congress in decisions about war. Administration officials even suggested that congressional debate might hurt the morale of U.S. troops.
They have it backward. Congressional debate and deliberation are designed precisely to protect our troops and their families. After more than 18 years of continuous war in the Middle East, we know too well the sacrifices that are made by our best and brightest. They face injury and death and the shock of losing comrades in arms. And their friends and families face the anxiety of wondering what will happen and the heavy burden of providing care to those affected. If the United States is to order our troops into harm’s way again, we should at least have an open debate about whether a war with Iran, or indeed any war, is truly in our national interest.
Our resolution puts a simple statement before the Senate. We should not be at war with Iran unless Congress authorizes it. If senators are unwilling to have this debate — because a war vote is hard or opinion polls suggest that their vote might be unpopular — how dare we order our troops to courageously serve and risk all?
—Jan. 9, 2020, in an op-ed on the Washington Post