Iranian attack scrambles House war powers vote
By Sarah Ferris, Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan
7 hrs ago
Top House Democrats’ plans to push a measure limiting the Trump administration’s war-making powers are in flux following an Iranian missile attack Tuesday on U.S. bases inside Iraq.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images House Speaker Nancy Pelosi leaves the Senate Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility following an attack Tuesday on an air base in Iraq.
The real prospect of rapidly intensifying conflict with Iran complicates the Democrats’ plan to repudiate President Donald Trump for a deadly drone attack on Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani last week without notifying Congress. House Democrats say they are likely to pause, if not abandon, their plans for a war powers resolution.
“This discussion started Sunday night. It's now 48 hours, or less than 48 hours since,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday night. “This is something that we have to consider seriously and thoughtfully and correctly and we're going to do that.”
“We need to figure out what’s going on,” added Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), one of the nation’s most prominent anti-war Democrats, when asked about plans for a war powers vote this week.
“I think everyone expected some unfortunate retaliation,” Lee said of Tuesday’s Iranian attacks. “It’s a spiral now, that unfortunately might get out of control. That’s what we don’t want to see.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced late Sunday that the House would vote this week on a war powers resolution that would restrain Trump’s military powers and effectively halt the mounting crisis in Iran.
The measure, led by Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), is intended to force Republicans to go on record backing Trump’s provocative attack that killed the senior Iranian commander, though it was expected to gain few, if any, Republican supporters.
But even before Tuesday night’s counter-attack by the Iranians, Democrats had been struggling to agree on exactly what that resolution would look like. The vote had been expected this week, but it had not been formally scheduled.
In a private meeting, some Democrats pushed to add a measure from Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) that would defund any U.S. military action against Iran without first receiving congressional approval to a broader measure.
Khanna’s bill is essentially identical to a provision included in the House’s annual defense authorization bill over the summer. More than two dozen Republicans broke ranks to support Khanna’s amendment, but the language was eventually stripped out in final negotiations with the Senate last month.
“They’re trying to figure out how to get it where it has the best chance with the Senate, to get the 51 Senate votes, and how to draft it in that way,” Khanna said Tuesday night.
Moderate Democrats had their own reservations about the whole exercise, and are unwilling to draft a resolution that would hamstring the military in its response to future attacks. They’re also hesitant to support any language that would directly repudiate Trump for the Soleimani killing.
Some progressives, meanwhile, were looking to go even further. Two lawmakers, Lee and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), had been pushing their own version of a war powers resolution over the weekend, before Pelosi announced the House would vote on Slotkin’s measure, according to multiple people familiar with the conversations.
Omar, however, has become a lightning rod within the Democratic caucus, and a number of her colleagues were privately concerned about her taking on a high-profile role on the resolution.
“There are obviously a lot of opinions,” Hoyer said when asked about the vote, before reports of the Iran-led attack surfaced. “In fairness to members, we want them to have the opportunity to see what’s issued.”
Leaders in both parties have been desperate for answers about the Soleimani attack, as even the Pentagon has struggled to explain its next steps.
The so-called "Gang of Eight" — the four House and Senate leaders plus top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence panels — received their first briefing Tuesday afternoon about last week's U.S. strike on Soleimani.
House lawmakers will receive a top-secret briefing on Wednesday with the same group of senior administration officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Defense Secretary Mark Esper; Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; CIA Director Gina Haspel; and acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. That group is also expected to brief the Senate.
“I actually would say that the people were more concerned about the war today — or that there not be,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) said when asked for details on Pelosi’s impeachment plans.
“Everybody cares about what she’s doing [on impeachment]. We’ve done our job ... but we’re all very concerned about protecting the military, protecting our national security.”