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USA Today: 'No blank check for war': House votes to curb Trump's ability to strike Iran, other targets

January 30, 2020

WASHINGTON – The House voted Thursday to sharply limit President Donald Trump's ability to launch a military strike against Iran and to repeal the 2002 law that authorized the Iraq war, which has been used as justification for other U.S. military operations.

Democrats said the two votes were vital to reining in what they see as a reckless and impulsive president, pointing to his decision to authorize a U.S. drone strike that killed Gen. Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad on Jan. 2.

Trump has taken the U.S. "to the brink of war with an assassination of a foreign leader, without any imminent threat demonstrated, only double-talk," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas. "It is time to put the brakes on his dangerous pursuits."

Republicans warned the two House bills would tie the president's hands at a perilous moment. And they applauded Trump's decision to target Soleimani, saying the Iranian leader was a terrorist with American blood on his hands.  

"The president's not trying to start a war with Iran," said Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "In fact, he's shown incredible restraint against Iran, after they shot down our drone" and attacked a Saudi oil field. 

He said Democrats did not object when former President Barack Obama conducted "thousands of unauthorized strikes in Libya," and said it was "hypocritical and dangerous" for Democrats to limit Trump's powers to respond to "the very real and growing threats that Iran and its proxies pose." 

In the first House vote, lawmakers approved a bill that would block Trump from using any federal funds for "unauthorized military force against Iran." The final tally was 228-to-175.

The House then passed a bill repealing the 2002 Iraq war authorization sought by then-President George W. Bush. 

The Trump administration said the 2002 Iraq war law gave the president the authority to target Soleimani, who was killed while visiting Baghdad. While the 2002 law authorized the war against then-Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, it also identified Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations operating in Iraq as threats against the United States.

Democrats said it was outrageous to cite the Iraq war authorization as its legal basis for killing an Iranian military leader. Both the Trump and Obama administrations have also cited the 2002 law as justification for military strikes outside of Iraq – including in Yemen and Syria. 

Rep. Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the 2002 measure has been "misused time and time and time again." He said Thursday's vote would send a clear message to Trump and future presidents.  

"We’re saying today there’s no blank check for war," Engel said.

Republicans warned that the U.S. faces continuing dangers in Iraq, noting the Islamic State terrorist group still operates in the country.

McCaul said he agreed the 2002 authorization should be updated to reflect the U.S. changed mission in Iraq. But, he said, simply repealing it "does not recognize the reality on the ground – that our counter-terrorism mission in Iraq is ongoing."

The repeal measure passed by a vote of 236-to-166.

Both bills will face stiff opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate. Trump could also veto both measures. The president blasted the two measures on Wednesday. 

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"With Votes in the House tomorrow, Democrats want to make it harder for Presidents to defend America, and stand up to, as an example, Iran," the president wrote on Twitter. "Protect our GREAT COUNTRY!"

While the House debated the president’s war powers, the Trump administration announced new sanctions against the regime, as well as three waivers that will help Iran continue work on its civilian nuclear facilities.

Brian Hook, the State Department’s top Iran representative, said the U.S. would sanction Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, which oversees the country’s civilian nuclear program, and its chief officer.

At the same time, Hook said the U.S. would also renew three waivers allowing China, Russia and European companies to continue nonproliferation initiatives at an Iranian research reactor and other sites.

Conservatives criticized the Trump administration's decision to grant the waivers. 

“The Iranian regime continues to violate the limits of the nuclear deal, yet it continues to receive direct assistance from Vladimir Putin’s Russian regime, China, and other foreign countries who are contributing to its nuclear program," said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida. 

Supporters said those waivers are designed to ensure Iran's nuclear activities are for purely civilian purposes."