War Powers Resolution on Iran

January 10, 2020

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.  

Capitol

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 saidThe resolution was slated to go to the Senate nextThe 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. 

 

Congressional Reaction 

 

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 

 

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) 

 

House Minority Whip, Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) 

 

Chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY)

 

Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX) 

 

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) 

 

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) 

 

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) 

 

Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY)

 

Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA)

 

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