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US House set to vote on resolution to limit Trump war powers

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaking with attendees at a Trump Tax Town Hall hosted by Tax March at Events on Jackson in Phoenix, Arizona, Feb. 20, 2018. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has scheduled a vote on limiting President Donald Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran after many lawmakers said they were not satisfied by a White House explanation for the targeted killing of a top Iranian general.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the vote on a war powers resolution would take place on January 9, saying that “members of Congress have serious, urgent concerns about the administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran and about its lack of strategy moving forward.”

The resolution directs Trump to terminate the use of the U.S. military in or against Iran, unless Congress declares war or approves an authorization for the use of force against Tehran.

The effectiveness of such a resolution — which is likely to pass in the Democratic-controlled House — was under debate.

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Concern has been widespread that the confrontation between Tehran and Washington would escalate and spread through the Middle East, especially after Iran fired missiles on January 8 at sites in Iraq where U.S. troops were based.

While those fears eased somewhat on January 8 after Trump gave an address where he refrained from ordering more military action, a senior Iranian commander said on January 9 that the firing of missiles at U.S. targets a day earlier was “the start of a series of attacks across the region,” according to state television.

The mounting tensions were touched upon by Pope Francis, who told Vatican-accredited ambassadors in a speech on January 9 that signals from the region were “particularly troubling.”

“[The escalating tensions] risk, above all, compromising the gradual process of rebuilding in Iraq, as well as setting the groundwork for a vaster conflict that all of us would want to avert,” he said.

“I therefore renew my appeal that all the interested parties avoid an escalation of the conflict and keep alive the flame of dialogue and self-restraint in full respect of international law,” he added.

Back in Washington, Democrats say the resolution would fall under the 1973 War Powers Act and would be legally binding if also passed in the Senate.

Republicans say the proposal, which would not require a presidential signature, does not have the force of law. Federal courts have never definitively decided the matter.

Republicans control the Senate and a similar resolution would have little chance of passing.

Nevertheless, a handful of Republican lawmakers also expressed dissatisfaction with the January 8 briefing by the White House on the justification for the strike on Major General Qasem Soleimani, who was commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which have been designated as terror organizations by the United States.

Soleimani was killed on January 3 while traveling near Baghdad, angering Tehran and leading to a retaliatory missile strike against a base housing U.S. troops in Iraq. There were no reports of injuries in the missile strike.

Democrats have said the killing of Soleimani was reckless and could lead the country into a war with Iran.

Following the White House briefing on January 8, Pelosi called the strike “provocative and disproportionate.”

Freshman Democratic Representative Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., the measure’s sponsor, said that “I think it’s extremely important that we as a country, if we are going to — either intentionally or accidentally — slide into war, that we have a debate about it.”

Slotkin is a former CIA analyst and Pentagon official who served in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Mike Lee – in an unusual rebuke of the president — said the White House briefing was the worst he had heard in his nine years in the Senate, at least on a military issue, and that he would support the war powers resolution in that chamber.

“What I found so distressing about that briefing was that one of the messages we received from the briefers was do not debate, do not discuss the issue of the appropriateness of further military intervention against Iran and that if you do, you will be emboldening Iran,” Lee said.

However, another Republican senator, Roy Blunt, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Soleimani was the “No. 1 terrorist mastermind” and that Trump had sent an important signal to U.S. adversaries and friends “that the president is going to make the hard decisions.”

Trump broke precedent by not informing congressional leaders before the strike against the Iranian commander.

Trump and other members of the administration have defended the assassination of Soleimani, saying the Iranian had orchestrated attacks on U.S. troops and allies and was in the process of planning further terror actions.

The United States also defended its actions in a letter to the United Nations late on January 8, calling the attack on Soleimani “self-defense” under Article 51 of the UN Charter, adding that it was prepared to take additional action in the Middle East “as necessary” to protect its interests.

At the same time, Washington told the UN that it was “ready to engage without preconditions in serious negations with Iran” to prevent escalation by Tehran, according to the letter seen by Reuters.