- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2020

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s new effort to rein in President Trump on Iran is likely to end in defeat — just as Congress’s past attempts to constrain Mr. Trump on Yemen and to block President Obama on Libya and Syria were also doomed.

Mrs. Pelosi announced late in the weekend that she will have the House vote in the next few days on a measure under the War Powers Resolution effectively telling the president to go no further in the brewing confrontation with Iran.

Senate Democrats will force action on a similar resolution in their chamber.

“It will have to come to the floor,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer. “We’re going to vote on it.”

The votes will give Democrats a chance to vent, but Senate Republicans are likely to be more skeptical, and a presidential veto should either measure actually clear Congress, it’s not likely to amount to more than a symbolic wallop.

Lawmakers have proved to be strikingly adept at second-guessing presidents’ actions since the beginning of the war on terrorism. But they’ve been impotent on actually doing anything about it.

When Mr. Obama ordered the U.S. to provide air cover as part of the international operation that ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, Republicans in the House attempted to block him but failed. Mr. Obama’s later deployment to Syria as an escalation of the war on terrorism drew more complaints, but no resolution.

And Mr. Trump faced an attempt last year to limit his commitment of U.S. assistance to the Saudi-backed war effort in Yemen. A war powers resolution restraining a president actually passed both chambers of Congress for the first time ever — but Mr. Trump vetoed it, and his veto was easily sustained, leaving him a free hand to aid the Saudi effort.

“I’m not optimistic they will be more successful this time around,” said Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University. “It’s not likely that the House and the Senate can get together and agree on new legislation that can pass both houses. And if they do agree on it, Trump can always veto it.”

Mr. Somin has been critical of presidents claiming powers to get involved in Libya or Yemen without additional authority from Congress.

He said Mr. Trump was on firmer footing with last week’s drone missile strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who as head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had facilitated attacks on American personnel and property.

“This is not a case of the U.S. initiating combat against him, or against the various groups he controls. This is a case of him being the aggressor,” Mr. Somin said.

Many Democrats have disagreed, calling Mr. Trump’s handling of the U.S. response illegal.

The administration has given varying justifications.

One official said the strike, which happened while Soleimani was in Iraq, was legal under the 2002 authorization for use of military force to oust Saddam Hussein from Iraq. Vice President Mike Pence also suggested the 2001 AUMF granting permission to combat al Qaeda and global terrorism justified the strike.

Yet the argument gaining the most traction is that a president has inherent powers to defend the U.S. against someone plotting against Americans.

Former Obama administration Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, also once the top lawyer for the Pentagon, said the president acted lawfully.

“If you believe everything that our government is saying about General Soleimani, he was a lawful military objective, and the president, under his constitutional authority as commander in chief, had ample domestic legal authority to take him out without an additional congressional authorization,” Mr. Johnson said.

“Whether he was a terrorist or a general in a military force that was engaged in armed attacks against our people, he was a lawful military objective,” Mr. Johnson added.

Mr. Trump detailed his reasons in his official notification to Congress over the weekend of the strike — a notification made to comply with the 1973 War Powers Resolution. But the president marked the notification classified, shielding it from public view.

Top officials will brief Congress on the attack this week, but Democrats say the justifications must be made public. They also want assurances the administration is prepared for Iranian retaliation.

“The American people need clarity that the Trump administration has a plan — not just a tweet, a plan — to keep our troops, our nation, and our people safe,” Mr. Schumer said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Democrats’ carping was unseemly.

“Must Democrats’ distaste for this president dominate every thought they express and every decision they make? Is that really the seriousness that this situation deserves?” he asked rhetorically.

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