KEY POINTS

  • Speaker Pelosi will have the House vote to restrict Trump on Iran
  • The vote will invoke War Powers Resolution, which requires Congress declare war
  • Trump may be able to prove an exemption to the Resolution

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced Sunday, via letter, her intent to hold a vote on the War Powers Resolution in order to restrict President Donald Trump’s “military actions regarding Iran.”

This vote comes on the heels of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani’s killing via a U.S. airstrike in Iraq on Friday. Democrats in Congress have said that they were not consulted on the attack, suggesting that doing so without congressional inclusion was a violation of federal law. In this case, the concern is particularly high, given that Soleimani’s death will serve to deeply antagonize Iran.

In Pelosi’s letter, she said that killing Soleimani “endangered our service members, diplomats and others by risking a serious escalation of tensions with Iran.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) plans to introduce a similar bill as well.

Pelosi’s letter refers to the War Powers Resolution, a piece of legislation passed in 1973, which clearly defines and restricts the president’s ability to make use of military force. In other words, if the president wants to go to war, he or she must seek and gain approval from Congress, whose job it is to formally declare war. That said, in practice, it’s not so straightforward.

Congress has not formally declared war since 1943, however it has given its approval for a number of “military actions,” ranging from the Vietnam War to the Gulf War. The distinction between “war” and “military action” became rapidly hazy in the latter half of the Twentieth Century and only got worse in the Twenty-first.

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, granting the president certain new military privileges. Boiled down, it permits the president to authorize military operations without congressional approval, given the operations target people linked to the Sept. 11 terror attacks. While that might sound rather narrow in scope, in nearly 20 years it’s proven to be anything but, having been used to carry out military actions in Syria, Libya and other places.

Since Soleimani’s death, Vice President Mike Pence has publicly asserted that the Iranian general gave support to the Sept. 11 hijackers. Critics have been quick to point out that this claim is dubious, at best, with some calling it a conspiracy theory. Regardless, pushing this narrative helps set up the legal justification for killing Soleimani without consulting Congress. Whether it will hold up remains to be seen.

Responding to outraged Democrats, Trump maintains that he did not need congressional approval for the airstrike in a particularly snarky tweet:

In response, the House Foreign Affairs Committee tweeted back, telling Trump that he is “not a dictator.”