Anti-war groups gain new traction with Democratic leaders after Soleimani strike

House Democrats are considering a three-pronged offensive to limit President Donald Trump’s ability to wage war with Iran after abandoning the effort last year.

al-monitor US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds her weekly news conference at the US Capitol in Washington, US Dec. 19, 2019.  Photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.

Jan 6, 2020

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has thrown down the gauntlet on President Donald Trump’s ability to strike Iran, vowing to hold a vote this week “to limit the president’s military actions against Iran” following the assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani last week.

Al-Monitor has learned that Democratic leaders are also considering holding votes on two other provisions that they had dropped from a compromise defense authorization bill last month amid opposition from the White House and Senate Republicans.

Anti-war activist groups are lobbying Democrats to revive legislation defunding offensive military action against Iran and to repeal the 2002 military authorization that allowed President George. W. Bush to invade Iraq.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., agreed to drop both provisions from the National Defense Authorization Act last year after negotiations with Republicans, but the recent strike on Soleimani and escalating military tensions with Iran have revived Democratic interest in both initiatives.

“Congress has been asleep at the wheel for a very long time on war powers,” said Stephen Miles, the director of Win Without War, a coalition of anti-war activist groups lobbying Congress to limit Trump’s ability to attack Iran. “What we’re beginning to see is Congress really exercising this muscle.”

Pelosi wrote a letter to the Democratic caucus announcing a vote on legislation similar to a bill introduced last week by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., under expedited procedures laid out under the 1973 War Powers Resolution. Kaine introduced the bill alongside Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., but Pelosi has instead designated Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., a former CIA and Defense Department analyst specializing in Shiite militias, to introduce the bill.

Separately, Win Without War is also pushing House Democrats to pass legislation introduced by presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., to cut off funding for offensive military action against Iran absent congressional authorization.

Win Without War is also pushing for a repeal of the 2002 Iraq military authorization. While Democrats and anti-war groups note that Congress did not authorize the Soleimani strike, the White House maintains that it was legal as a self-defense measure under the 2002 authorization.

The Trump administration claims that Soleimani was planning an “imminent” attack but has refused repeated requests to make the evidence public. The New York Times has reported that several Trump administration officials have questioned the claim that an attack was “imminent” — or that Soleimani’s death would have thwarted it.

Democrats are also sparring with the White House over its refusal to publicly disclose its notification to Congress for the Soleimani strike. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Bob Menendez, D-N.J., penned a terse letter to Trump arguing that “an entirely classified notification is simply not appropriate in a democratic society, and there appears to be no legitimate justification for classifying this notification.”

The 1973 War Powers Resolution requires the White House to report to Congress within two days after the president introduces US forces into hostilities, including an assessment of “the scope and duration of such hostilities or situation.” But it does not specify whether the notification should remain unclassified.

For his part, Trump incorrectly claimed that a legal notification to Congress is not required, and inaccurately asserted that his “media posts” on Twitter could serve as the legally mandated requirement “should Iran strike any US person or target.” Trump also threatened to retaliate “in a disproportionate manner” and over the weekend threatened to strike 52 sites in Iran, including cultural targets — raising the possibility of war crimes under international law.

And while an August Gallup poll found that only 18% of Americans support military action against Iran, Trump’s allies in the Republican-held Senate have largely supported the strike on Soleimani. The staunch support for Trump dims the prospects of the Senate passing any House legislation to constrain the president on Iran.

Nonetheless, anti-war activists still maintain that the legislation is necessary to send a message to the president.

“The American public is firmly against war with Iran,” Miles told Al-Monitor. “We want to make sure their voice is heard. We want to make sure that President Donald Trump hears their voice and understands that’s not what the public wants.”

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