Intel: Democrats advance legislation to restrict Trump’s Middle East war powers

al-monitor Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., speaks during the "No War With Iran" Rally for at the US Capitol on Jan. 9, 2020, in Washington.  Photo by (Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for

Jul 14, 2020

House Democrats advanced three provisions today that would broadly curtail President Donald Trump’s ability to conduct offensive military action across the Middle East — and the world — should they become law as part of the annual defense spending bill.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., introduced all three amendments, which would repeal the 2001 military authorization used as the legal basis for counterterrorism operations throughout the world after eight months, immediately revoke the 2002 authorization to invade Iraq and prohibit the president from using funds to launch offensive military action against Iran. Lee was the only member of Congress to vote against the 2001 authorization, which Congress hastily passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“From pulling out of the Iran deal, to moving US carriers to the region, the administration has continued to issue vague threats of military action,” Lee said ahead of the vote series. “It has even floated the idea of using the 2001 Authorization for the use of Military Force (AUMF) as a legal basis to go to war with Iran. Congress cannot allow this to happen, and it’s a stark reminder once again of the danger that using the 2001 AUMF on the books indefinitely could cause another unfortunate war.”

The House Appropriations Committee adopted all three Lee amendments to the defense spending bill over Republican objections before advancing the legislation in a 30-22 party-line vote.

Why it matters: None of the Lee amendments are new. Democrats tried to repeal the 2002 Iraq war authorization and defund offensive military action against Iran as part of last year’s defense authorization bill. And last year’s spending package also included a Lee amendment to sunset the 2001 authorization within months. However, Democrats abandoned all three provisions during negotiations on compromise legislation with the Republican-held Senate. Shortly after the signing the compromise bills in December, President Trump cited the Iraq war authorization as part of his legal justification for killing Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani in January.

What’s next: The Senate defense bill is unlikely to contain any of the Lee provisions, setting up a potential flashpoint in negotiations to fund the Defense Department for fiscal year 2021.  If Democrats succeed, Congress would have eight months to replace the 2001 authorization — which is used as the legal justification to attack the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, the Taliban and a myriad of other terrorist groups — before the law becomes void. Republicans argue that Congress is unlikely to coalesce around any new military authorization.

“It is not in the United States interest to repeal this counterterrorism authority without having an adequate replacement that we know will be signed into law,” said Rep. Ken Calvert of California, the top Republican on the defense spending panel. “Repeal and replace would need to be simultaneous.”

Know more: Democrats did succeed in convincing some Republicans to pass an Iran war powers resolution this year after the Soleimani strike, but Congress failed to override Trump’s veto. Congressional Correspondent Bryant Harris has that story — and the White House’s changing legal justification for the Soleimani killing — right here.

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