The House on Thursday voted to curtail Donald Trump’s war powers a week on from the administration’s decision to unilaterally assassinate Qassem Soleimani without consulting Congress, a move which brought the US into open state-on-state conflict with Iran this week.
On Wednesday, administration officials including Mark Esper, Mike Pompeo and Gina Haspel held closed-door briefings with lawmakers in an attempt to explain the rationale behind the timing of the drone strike, which Trump insists was necessary to prevent an “imminent” attack.
Suffice to say that although Republicans generally came away satisfied, some (most notably Mike Lee) sided with Democrats in contending that the State department, the DoD and the CIA failed to make the case for why the threat posed by the legendary Quds commander was any different last week than it has been virtually every day since 2003.
The administration’s failure to provide a justification for why Trump couldn’t have waited long enough to consult lawmakers underscored existing worries about the president’s expansive view of executive authority and penchant for ignoring the whole concept of coequal branches of government.
And so, the House voted 224 t0 194 to compel Trump to ask for permission before escalating tensions further with Tehran.
“If our loved ones are going to be sent to fight in any protracted war, the president owes the American public a conversation”, the legislation’s sponsor Representative Elissa Slotkin said. “This allows us to start that debate as our founders intended”.
If you’re wondering who Elissa is to make such a presumptuous declaration, the answer is that the Michigan Democrat is a former CIA and Pentagon analyst specializing in Shia militias. So, you know, that’s who.
Of course, Republicans stood by Trump and equated Democrats with terrorists for suggesting that the president should have to consult with Congress before assassinating one of the most important figures in the Mideast.
Earlier Thursday, prior to the vote, Trump openly accused Nancy Pelosi of conspiring with Soleimani from the grave. “Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats wanted to defend him”, Trump claimed. “I think that’s a very bad thing for this country”.
That is so ridiculous that it wouldn’t even bear mentioning were it not for the fact that many House Republicans ran with that general line of reasoning in opposing the effort to limit Trump’s capacity to take the country to war with Iran. No Democrat has defended Soleimani, although plenty have questioned Trump’s timing and judgment.
“[This is about] protecting the people in a way that prevents war and does not have us producing, again and again, generations of veterans who are suffering because of it”, Pelosi said, flatly.
As The New York Times notes, Pelosi is effectively stripping Trump of the ability to veto the measure, although in doing so, she’s also stripping it of anything other than symbolic meaning.
“The House measure could amount to little more than a statement of principle, without the force of law”, The Times said Thursday evening, in the course of explaining that “House Democrats opted to use a concurrent resolution — the type that is considered to be enacted once both chambers approve it and is never presented to the president for his signature — rather than a joint resolution, which Mr. Trump could veto”.
But if Trump doesn’t sign it, it has no legal effect. Or at least that’s how we understand it.
Perhaps the most notable vote in favor of restricting Trump’s war powers came from Matt Gaetz, arguably the most sycophantic of all Trump sycophants.
Gaetz is so insufferably obedient to the president that at times it almost seems as though he’s kidding. Gaetz makes Lindsey Graham look like a Trump critic. And yet, he voted with Democrats (and also with two other GOP defectors and Independent Justin Amash). Have a listen to this:
I represent more troops than any other member of this body. I buried one of them earlier today at Arlington.
If our servicemembers have the courage to fight and die in these wars, Congress ought to have the courage to vote for or against them.
I’m voting for this resolution. pic.twitter.com/cSCBG7CmIm
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) January 9, 2020
Nobody knows who that guy is or what he did with Matt Gaetz, but here’s hoping this marks a turning point for a man who, last year, got himself investigated by the Florida Bar for (literally) suggesting the Michael Cohen’s wife might turn into a vengeful prostitute while he serves a prison term for misdeeds committed while working for Trump.
The Senate will likely consider a similar measure sponsored by Tim Kaine next week. With Mike Lee and Rand Paul on board, Democrats do have a possible path to passing the legislation, although unlike the House version, it’s a joint resolution, which means Trump can veto it.