Congress Begins Efforts to Restrict Trump’s War Push

Congress took its first formal steps on Wednesday to eliminate a post-9/11 war authorization that some fear the Trump Administration will utilize as justification for attacking Iran. Separately, a measure to bar any funding for war with Iran was watered down after unified opposition from Republicans and an intervention by Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL).

Since National Security Advisor John Bolton threatened to use “unrelenting force” against Iran, many legislators have been concerned that the Trump administration is heading toward war and might not even seek explicit Congressional authorization. While several bills have been introduced to clarify that Trump does not have the authority to launch a war, Republicans have yet to support any of the measures and Democratic leadership has yet to unite around a clear strategy.

Nevertheless, yesterday Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) offered two serious efforts to rein in Trump’s war authorities as lawmakers began finalizing the annual Defense Department funding bill. First, Rep. Lee succeeded in passing an amendment that would set up a process to repeal and replace the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) against al-Qaeda and associated forces. Not only has the Trump administration falsely asserted that there are ties between Iran and al-Qaeda, but it has also refused to rule out using the 2001 AUMF to attack Iran. That’s exactly why NIAC Action and many other groups strongly supported Lee’s amendment.

Furthermore, Lee offered a second amendment that would have barred funding for the introduction of U.S. forces into Iran without explicit Congressional authorization. Defense Appropriations subcommittee chairman Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-IN) offered his support for the amendment while Republicans, led by Rep. Ken Calvert, objected. Calvert asked, “What happens if the Iranians sink a ship in the strait of Hormuz this afternoon? Are we to do nothing?”

However, the amendment still appeared poised for passage until Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) objected, expressing concerns that it “precludes a preemptive strike in the event of an imminent threat” from Iran—one of the scenarios for which Bolton has reportedly requested war plans from the Pentagon. Rep. Lee sought to reassure Wasserman-Schultz that the President would retain authorities to address urgent threats but ultimately, Wasserman-Schultz’s concerns led to a significant watering down of the amendment. The compromise amendment states that nothing in the appropriations bill itself would authorize the use of force against Iran, but fails to restrict the President in any serious way. Thus, the apparent desire of Wasserman-Schultz to preserve Bolton’s ability to strike Iran appears to have significantly weakened the Congressional response to rising threats of war.

Still, Republicans opposed even this weakened messaging amendment, with Rep. Calvert warning that it “creates confusion about the U.S. purpose toward Iran and our right to respond if attacked.” The amendment ultimately passed 30-22 in a party-line vote. The bill will now be considered by the full Appropriations Committee before heading to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote.

Additional legislation has been introduced to clarify that Trump does not have authority for war with Iran, and to block funding from being used for a potential war. Additionally, both the Defense funding bill and a separate bill to set Defense Department policies will be considered in the weeks ahead, providing further opportunities to restrict the President’s powers to start a war of choice with Iran. However, if yesterday’s mark-up is any indication, those hoping to prevent a war will need to overcome opposition from both Republicans and some hawkish Democrats.

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