WASHINGTON ― Even with Congress busy with President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, Washington is taking action next week in the face of a possible war with Iran.
House Democrats are planning two votes to challenge Trump’s war powers, State Department officials are set to hold a previously cancelled top secret brief for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Trump may unveil a Middle East peace plan ahead of a meeting Tuesday with Israeli leaders.
The House plans to vote next Thursday on Rep. Barbara Lee’s standalone measure to repeal the 2002 authorization of military force, or AUMF, as well as Rep. Ro Khanna’s bill to prohibit funding for any military offensive against Iran without congressional approval. (Both are California Democrats.)
The votes are seen not only as a rebuke of Trump’s unilateral action against Iran but a win for House progressives, who have spent years seeking limits on presidential authority. The Trump administration has claimed the 2002 AUMF legally justifies military action against the Islamic State “in Syria or elsewhere.”
(Home Democrats plan to shield the bills from Republican procedural tactics meant to to split Democrats and force certain changes to the bill, as the GOP has successfully done on some of the most contentious measures of 2019, Politico reports.)
The action comes as Trump, without congressional authorization, ordering a drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq. U.S. officials say Soleimani led campaigns that have killed hundreds of American troops and was planning further attacks, though critics in Congress say the administration manufactured the justification for a needless escalation with Tehran.
The Democratic-led House, on Jan 9, approved a measure to bar Trump from further military action against Iran without explicit authorization from Congress, while several senators have already introduced similar proposals to reign in Trump’s ability to attack Iran. Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 2020 presidential hopeful, has introduced a Senate version of the Khanna bill.
The Trump administration is also facing new blowback from congressional Democrats for initially reporting that no service members were harmed in Iran’s retaliatory attack on al-Asad airbase, and only later disclosing that 11 service members were transported out of Iraq to receive medical treatment for traumatic brain injuries. Trump himself is being criticized for saying Wednesday that he didn’t consider the traumatic brain injuries reported by U.S. troops following an Iranian rocket attack to be serious.
“I’m not sure which is more infuriating – that the Trump Administration lied and claimed that there weren’t injuries in the Iran missile strike or that once caught, Trump called the traumatic brain injuries ‘headaches,’” Sen. Chris Murphy, the top Democrat on the Senate subcommittee on the Middle East and Counter-terrorism, said in a tweet Jan. 22.
The State Department’s special representative for Iran, Brian Hook is set to brief the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a classified setting on Tuesday morning, ahead of the afternoon start of Senate impeachment proceedings. On Jan. 15., the State Department abruptly cancelled the briefing, titled “U.S.-Iran Policy and Authorities for the Use of Force,” along with another on embassy security.
Tracking with the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” against Tehran, Hook on Thursday continued to the administration’s forceful rhetoric, threatening that if Soleimani’s successor, Esmail Ghaani, “follows a similar path of killing Americans, he will meet the same fate.”
“The president has made clear for years that any attacks against American personnel or interests in the region will be met with a decisive response,” he told the Asharq al-Awsat newspaper in Davos, Switzerland.
The State Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, Joey Hood, and Acting Legal Advisor Marik String are set to join Hook.
Trump, who is meeting with Israeli leaders next Tuesday at the White House amid the country’s unprecedented political deadlock, said he plans to release the plan “sometime prior” to the meeting. He said he spoke with Palestinians officials only “briefly” about the plan―which they have preemptively rejected.