Congress

Republicans come out against Iran language they previously supported

Many House members who supported amendments on War Powers now opposed

Language from Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., on authorizing military force that Republicans previously supported is unlikely to have that same kind of support as the GOP shifts its stance since the recent hostilities with Iran. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

In July, 27 Republicans voted for an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to effectively prohibit the president from using military force against Iran without congressional approval. As the House readies to vote on a similar measure Thursday, few, if any, Republicans are likely to support it.

U.S. tension with Iran has escalated since July, resulting in recent attacks from both sides. President Donald Trump’s decision to kill Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani has drawn praise from Republicans who believe the administration line about the Quds Force commander and criticism from Democrats who say the intelligence does not support that claim.

The War Powers resolution the House will vote on Thursday directing the president to terminate the use of military force in or against Iran unless Congress authorizes it or such force is needed to defend Americans does not name Trump. But the measure is a referendum on his decisions on Iran, and Republicans don’t want to support Democrats’ latest effort to reprimand the president.

“They’re trying to use this to score political points as opposed to do something constructive,” Rules ranking member Tom Cole told CQ Roll Call.

Cole was one of the 27 Republicans who supported similar language in the NDAA. The amendment by California Rep. Ro Khanna to prohibit federal funds from being used for military force in or against Iran unless Congress has authorized such action was adopted, 251-170, but stripped in conference with the Senate.

The Oklahoma Republican will not be supporting the war powers resolution on Thursday.

“If they were serious about this, we’d be moving through regular order where you could develop some bipartisanship,” Cole said. “They're going to end up with a partisan vote that's going to be dead in the Senate, instead of a serious discussion and debate where they’ve got some friends.”

Democrats said they were trying to draft the resolution to attract bipartisan Senate support. In that chamber, they may get at least two Republicans. Sens. Mike Lee and Rand Paul left a Wednesday Iran briefing from administration officials frustrated and willing to support a War Powers resolution.

Trump tweeted Thursday morning he hopes all House Republicans vote against the resolution.

‘Political statement’

Rep. Mark Meadows, one of Trump’s closest allies and who supported Khanna’s NDAA amendment, said he believes the president had the authority to strike Soleimani and lawmakers shouldn’t be debating authorization for use of military force in the middle of conflict.

The North Carolina Republican said he plans to vote against the resolution and a standalone bill from Khanna to reprise his NDAA amendment that Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House may vote on soon.

“It’s nothing more than a political statement that will go nowhere,” Meadows said. “I’ve actually reached out to Representative Khanna to let him know that I’m a willing participant in a real, rigorous debate but that to play politics with a War Powers resolution sets back that debate.”

CQ Roll Call spoke to 10 of the 27 Republicans who supported Khanna’s amendment and only one expressed willingness to support the resolution.

Rep. Thomas Massie said he is for “all the measures” reclaiming Congress’s authority to authorize military force, no matter who the president is. But speaking before the text of Democrats’ resolution was released, the Kentucky Republican did not commit either way.

“Instead of talking about their hypotheticals … here’s what they should do, because I just listened to them get their religion again after eight years in there,” Massie said, referring to Wednesday’s briefing on Iran. “They should repeal the AUMFs, and we should start over instead of trying to glom on to what we have.”

Pelosi said Democrats may also soon vote on a bill from California Rep. Barbara Lee to repeal the 2002 AUMF for military engagement in Iraq, which some administration officials have cited as basis for killing Soleimani. Massie said he would support Lee’s bill, as well as Khanna’s. The House previously passed Lee’s langauge as an NDAA amendment, with 14 Republicans supporting it.

Nonbinding

Massie spoke generally about preferring measures with “more teeth,” so he may vote against Democrats’ resolution because it lacks any. The measure was filed as a concurrent resolution to avoid giving the minority a procedural tool, known as the motion to recommit, that if successful could’ve stripped the measure of its privileged status that expedites Senate consideration.

Concurrent resolutions are nonbinding messages of Congress and if passed through both chamber chambers do not go to the president’s desk to become law.

While most Republicans cited Democrats’ political motives as reason to vote against the war powers resolution, some also cited concerns about substance.

“The way it’s written, it signals out only Iran, but it should be inclusive of all countries,” Florida Rep. Ted Yoho said. “The other thing is that it allows, still, to go after al-Qaeda, which is an extension of the AUMFs that we already have out there that we need to get rid of. So for those reasons, I’m going to be a ‘no’ on it. And the other thing is it talks about American bases, property, all this, but it doesn’t say anything about our diplomats; it doesn’t say anything about American citizens.”

Yoho said the measure sends a bad signal to Iran, which could claim Trump doesn’t have the backing of his own people. He said he would be open to supporting the Khanna and Lee bills, as he did when they were brought forward as amendments to the NDAA, but he thinks they should first be considered by the Foreign Affairs Committee, of which he’s a member.

Rep. Warren Davidson said he agrees Congress should reclaim its power to declare war and authorize use of military force but having that fight with the administration now is not appropriate.

“In the midst of conflict with Iran, tensions high, I don’t think we should be sending all the things we shouldn’t be doing to Iran as the message from Congress,” the Ohio Republican said. “I think we ought to be saying here’s what we’re for.”

Davidson, who supported the Khanna and Lee amendments on the NDAA, said he is leaning against voting for those bills on the floor, arguing Democrats aren’t interested in a serious debate.

“It’s a typical reactionary anti-Trump measure by the Democrat political team,” Davidson said. “It’s not a policy-making thing, which is really what we’re supposed to be focused on here.”

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