WASHINGTON ― After a day of uncertainty, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced Wednesday that the House would move forward with a vote on a resolution limiting the president’s war powers.
On Sunday night, House Democrats were resolute that they would vote on the war powers legislation this week. By Wednesday morning, however, leadership hadn’t scheduled a vote, and there was talk that the House wouldn’t consider the resolution until next week.
But by late Wednesday afternoon, following a classified all-member briefing on Iraq and Iran, Pelosi announced that Democrats would vote Thursday.
“Last week, the Trump administration conducted a provocative and disproportionate military airstrike targeting high-level Iranian military officials,” Pelosi said in a statement.
She added that the president’s War Power Act notification to Congress was “insufficient,” and that Democrats’ concerns were “not addressed” by the briefing Wednesday.
During that meeting administration officials tried to justify Trump’s assassination of Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani. But Democrats emerged from the briefing skeptical about whether there had been any “imminent” threat to the United States as Trump claimed there had.
“In general, my colleagues seem unpersuaded that there was anything imminent,” Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) told HuffPost.
“There was no raw evidence presented that there was an imminent threat,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said at a press conference.
And House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) told HuffPost that the administration felt things had changed and they had to move. “Am I convinced of it?” Engel asked. “I’m not so sure.”
The resolution, by Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), orders Trump to terminate hostilities against Iran unless Congress declares war or there’s risk of an imminent attack on the U.S. or its armed forces.
Unfortunately for Democrats, the resolution will do little to limit Trump. For one, the legislation is a “concurrent resolution,” not a “joint resolution,” meaning it will not carry the force of law or go to Trump’s desk for his signature or veto. Instead, adoption of the resolution will be more like issuing a formal press release.
It was always a long shot that this resolution would be adopted in the Senate. Republicans in that chamber have not only shown their fealty to Trump, but they’ve also displayed a yearslong thirst for war with Iran. So the decision to go with a concurrent resolution is a recognition that this vote will likely be a partisan affair.
The resolution is still likely to get a procedural vote in the Senate, and that appears to be the reason Democrats went with a “concurrent resolution.” (They were concerned that, if the legislation were a “joint resolution,” Republicans would offer a motion to recommit that would be adopted and strip the resolution of its privileged status.) With a concurrent resolution, the legislation will still be “privileged” in the Senate, meaning any senator can call it up in that chamber for a vote on the motion to proceed, but House Democrats won’t have to let Republicans offer a motion to recommit.
A privileged resolution in the Senate doesn’t exactly mean that much. Even if any senator can call up the bill for a procedural vote, it’d still be a long ways from a final vote on adoption. But again, even if it were adopted, it wouldn’t actually constrain the president.
Still, there were some cracks in the Senate GOP Wednesday. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said the briefing he attended was “probably the worst briefing, at least on a military issue, I’ve seen,” calling it “insulting” and saying he now intended to vote for a similar war powers resolution in the Senate ― introduced by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also said after the briefing that he would vote for Kaine’s resolution, too.
The best bet for actually adoption in the Senate seems to be relying on the Trump administration’s obfuscation in these classified briefings, because the restrictions that most Republicans would go along with likely would not be enough for many Democrats, who worry that Trump is blundering the United States into another Middle Eastern war. But with the administration functionally telling lawmakers to just trust them on the intelligence, some Republicans could actually stand up for the rights of Congress.
Either way, however, the resolution won’t actually constrain Trump, and Pelosi instead ended up appeasing her caucus first.
Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Jayapal said Wednesday that the CPC had been working with leadership, and that her group was supportive of a “strong” war powers resolution. “We also want to see on repealing the 2002 AUMF, which has been used as the legal justification for this strike, we think erroneously,” she said.
Her co-chair, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), added that the problem isn’t just that the president is reckless ― it’s that there aren’t enough limits on presidents in general. “Congress has given up for decades too much of our power, and I think this is finally a moment maybe to wake everyone up and try to reclaim some of that power,” Pocan said.
Pelosi said in her statement Wednesday that Democrats may also consider additional legislation soon, mentioning Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-Calif.) bill to repeal the 2002 Iraq Authorization for Use of Military Force, which was used to justify Soleimani’s killing in Iraq, and Rep. Ro Khanna’s (D-Calif.) bill to prohibit funding for offensive military action against Iran.