House lawmakers voted 224 to 194 on Thursday, with 13 votes outstanding, passing the resolution in an effort to increase congressional oversight over actions that could bring the US into a war. The vote fell largely along party lines in the Democrat-controlled body.
When Trump authorized the airstrike that killed Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani last Friday just outside Baghdad International Airport, he enraged lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for not consulting or even briefing them on the strike first.
The resolution is nonbinding, meaning Trump will not get the chance to veto it.
"We're taking this path because it does not require ... a signature of the president," Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who sponsored the bill, said earlier Thursday. "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."
The Senate is expected to take up a similar resolution next week that would be sponsored by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). While Trump’s Republicans control the Senate, several conservatives have indicated a willingness to support the measure, including Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT).
The War Powers Act of 1973 was implemented in the closing days of the Vietnam War in an effort to block future presidents from unilaterally taking the US into a major conflict, as US President Lyndon B. Johnson did in 1964.
While the law recognizes that the president has the power to deploy US forces into combat without a formal declaration of war, it requires them to give Congress at least 48 hours notice and establishes a 60-day time limit. Military operations beyond that scope require congressional authorization.
The resolution passed on Thursday directs Trump to "terminate the use of United States Armed Forces" against Iran without congressional authorization unless necessary to “defend against an imminent armed attack,” a move permitted by the 1973 act.
Skepticism Builds Support for Resolution
Momentum for the resolution picked up on Wednesday following briefings of the House and Senate about the intelligence that led to the airstrike. Trump and other senior administration officials have claimed the threat posed by Soliemani was “imminent,” with Trump saying the Iranian general was in Baghdad to organize an attack that would have killed US troops “within days.”
The Iraqi government, however, has insisted Soleimani was visiting the Iraqi capital on a diplomatic mission, to hear de-escalation proposals from regional rival Saudi Arabia. Tensions between those two countries remain high following a September drone attack that damaged two Saudi oil facilities, temporarily curbing Saudi oil production. While the Houthi militant group in Yemen claimed responsibility for the strike, US intelligence has claimed it came from Iran.
Soleimani’s killing was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Iraqi lawmakers, the sixth US airstrike in a week conducted without authorization by Baghdad. The Iraqi parliament voted just two days later to evict US forces from the country - a diplomatic coup for Tehran and a huge setback for Washington.
House lawmakers were unconvinced by the administration’s claims, with House Intelligence Committee member Gerry Connolly describing them as “sophomoric” and “utterly unconvincing.”
Sen. Lee was motivated by the intel briefing to support the resolution limiting Trump’s warmaking powers.
Trump on Thursday tried to deride the move as “Crazy Nancy Pelosi’s War Powers Resolution” in a tweet prior to the vote.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also hinted Thursday that the House would soon move to repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq, which provided congressional authorization for the March 2003 invasion that deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and has governed US combat operations in the country ever since.