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House backs measures asserting congressional war powers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Refocusing a debate on war and peace in the midst of the Senate impeachment trial, the Democratic-controlled House on Thursday approved measures reasserting congressional authority over war powers.

In separate votes, the House passed a proposal to repeal the 2002 congressional authorization for the war in Iraq as well as a plan to prevent tax dollars from being used to take military action against Iran without congressional approval. Repeal of the 2002 authorization was approved by a 236-166 vote, while the funding measure on Iran passed 228-175.

The actions follow a Jan. 9 vote by the House asserting that President Donald Trump must seek approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran.

Democrats said the three measures, taken together, would reassert Congress’s constitutional authority in questions of war and peace and sending American forces into harm’s way.

"For far too long, Congress has been missing in action on matters of war and peace,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif, who sponsored the measure repealing 2002 war authorization.

She called the repeal vote long overdue. "It is time to end giving blank checks to any president to wage endless wars,'' she said.

Noting that presidents from both parties have used the “outdated” 2002 resolution to justify military action in the Middle East, Lee said leaving the resolution in place "is not only dangerous but irresponsible."

Republicans said Lee and fellow Democrats were the ones acting irresponsibly.

"After President Trump took decisive action to take out a brutal Iranian terrorist responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans, Democrats now seek to restrain our president and restrict his ability to protect our nation,'' said Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican.

The bills sponsored by Lee and Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., “severely restrict the president's authority to protect Americans from terrorist threats and fight ISIS,'' Scalise said, referring to the Islamic State terrorist group.

The House bills are unlikely to move forward in the Republican-controlled Senate, and they face veto threats from the White House.

The White House said repeal of the 2002 war authorization would undermine the president’s ability to defend U.S. forces and interests in the region against threats from Iran and Iranian-sponsored proxies. The White House also said it would "embolden our enemies with the recognizable goal of outlasting us.''

According to the White House, the spending measure in Iran would hinder Trump’s ability to protect U.S. diplomats, forces and interests in the region from the threat posed by Iran and its proxies.

Khanna said his measure would not prevent the president from acting to defend U.S. interests, but says Congress must authorize spending U.S. resources on any military action.

“It's high time Congress reasserted our power of the purse and made clear to any president that they must come to us first before taking any offensive military action. War should always be a last resort,” he said.

The House approved a nonbinding resolution Jan. 9 asserting that Trump must seek approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran. The vote followed a Jan. 3 U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in Iraq.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in announcing the House vote, called the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani “provocative and disproportionate.''

Democrats and several Republicans called Trump administration briefings on the attack inadequate, adding that officials did not provide enough details about why the attack was justified.

The Senate has not acted on proposal by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia asserting that Trump must seek approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran. Kaine said earlier this month that he has at least 51 votes to support the bipartisan resolution.

Eleven Republicans joined with Democrats to support the House repeal measure, while four Republicans backed the bill on Iran spending. Two Democrats opposed repeal, while three Democrats opposed limits on Iran funding.

Three Republicans joined Democrats to support both measures: Reps. Warren Davidson of Ohio, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Thomas Massie of Kentucky.

Rep. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania was the lone Democrat to oppose both measures.