After months of escalating tension between the Trump regime and Iran – with a recent threat of war breaking out narrowly averted, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed two measures that would rein in the president’s ability to initiate a U.S. military attack against Tehran. Democrats, joined by more than two dozen Republicans, approved the Khanna-Gaetz amendment to the $730 billion National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 251 to 170 that would prevent federal funds from being used for any military force in or against Iran without congressional authorization. The measure also clarifies that neither the 2001 nor 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) can be invoked to justify the use of military force against Iran.
The second amendment mandates the U.S. military withdraw aid to the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen, deemed by the United Nations as one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world today. This amendment is a follow-up measure to the historic invocation of the War Powers Resolution passed by both the House and Senate in April, later vetoed by Trump. But because the new House amendments are sure to be opposed by the Republican majority in the Senate and face a presidential veto, these measures likely won’t have the force of law anytime soon.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Stephen Miles, executive director of the national coalition Win Without War. Here, he discusses the significance of the passage of these amendments and growing public opposition to launching a new U.S. war against Iran.
STEPHEN MILES: You know, I think your listeners will remember we came within minutes of the U.S. being involved in a major war with Iran not all that long ago. We still don’t know all the details of what happened, but it does appear that one way or another, the president ultimately decided not to engage militarily at that moment after the downing of a U.S. drone. But we still remain precariously close to a military conflict in the Middle East in particular in the U.S. against Iran. We know that the president surrounded himself with a war cabinet of folks like Mike Pomppeo and John Bolton, who have been just, you know, lusting for war. And in the case of Bolton, publicly and openly for years and years and years. And we know that his Cabinet was fully committed to supporting the military action back when it almost happened not that long ago.
And so we’re working with a number of members of Congress, but really members of Congress themselves saw what was happening and decided to do something we haven’t seen a lot of in recent history, which was really put their foot down and make clear that they intend to assert their constitutional rights. You know, the Constitution is actually crystal clear that it’s the United States Congress, not the president, who gets to decide where and when our nation goes to war. The founders of our country put that power in Congress because they wanted it to be difficult. They knew that members of Congress would fight with each other. They would disagree. It would be hard to go to war. And they knew based on their own experience, living in an era of kings and despots, that when you had that power at one individual’s hands, it was too easy for a whole entire nation to go to war.
So they gave that power to Congress. We’ve seen that erode and now what we’re seeing as a resurgence of congressional interest in asserting their war powers. And as you mentioned this year, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, the annual defense policy bill, we saw a successful effort in the House, as well as a bipartisan majority of senators. It takes 60 votes in the Senate, so it didn’t reach that threshold, but bipartisan majorities in both chambers putting their foot down and saying, we will not allow you to spend one penny of taxpayer dollars on a war that has not been authorized by Congress and that there is no authorization currently on the books for you, Mr. President, to take us to war with Iran.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Stephen, what is the effect of the legislation passed in the House without a similar passage in the Senate? It sends a message. But, is there any effective obstacle to Trump going to war at this point if he decides to initiate a new conflict with Iran?
STEPHEN MILES: Well, I think it’s a great question and I think we have to be really clear here and I think the sponsors were clear during the debate. But we’re talking about the kinds of ins and outs of federal legislation that can get a bit confusing. So it’s worth remembering this kind of a military attack would already be illegal. As I said, the Constitution gives the power alone to Congress and Congress has not authorized any such military mission. So this is what you might consider a kind of belt and suspenders type situation. It’s already illegal, but this is Congress saying, we’ve seen this administration far too often do things that are illegal. And in the case of a war, there’s no court injunction that’s going to stop it. It very quickly can spiral out of control. So what we want to do is we want to go ahead and block the funding that could be used for that war before it even starts.
Now the House passed that. As I said, the Senate had a bipartisan majority to pass very similar legislation. But the House and the Senate do have different bills. So right now what has to happen is a process in Washington called going to conference. The House and the Senate bills are different in many different ways. This is only one of them. And over the next several weeks, they’ll look to make those bills the same. And then ultimately they have to pass them through both chambers again and then get to the president and be signed into law. The reason it was so important to do this on this piece of legislation is this is what’s considered “must pass” legislation. The National Defense Authorization Act. The NDA has passed for the last 58 years running every year. So this is something that people were really reluctant not to see become law. And there’s a very strong possibility that while the Senate didn’t put this in their bill, because they did have a bipartisan majority vote for essentially the same thing. What we’re hopeful for is that the final bill will contain this language. But we’ve got a long way to go. We haven’t gotten there yet, and the next couple of weeks is going to decide how we get there.
For more information, visit Win Without War at winwithoutwar.org.