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US House of Representatives votes to limit Trump's ability to declare war on Iran

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivers remarks on the status of the House impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, December 5, 2019.
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivers remarks on the status of the House impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, December 5, 2019. © Erin Scott, REUTERS

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution on Thursday to stop President Donald Trump from further military action against Iran, rebuking the president days after he ordered a drone strike that killed a top Iranian commander and raised fears of war.

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The Democratic-controlled House voted 224 to 194, mostly along party lines, sending the war powers resolution to the Senate. The partisan vote reflected the deep divide in Congress over Trump's Iran policy and how much of a say lawmakers should have over the use of the military.

Democrats accused Trump of acting recklessly and backed the resolution, while Trump's fellow Republicans, who rarely vote against the president, opposed it.

"The president has to make the case first, first, not after he launches an ill-advised attack and then comes up with a reason why it was necessary and why it was legal," said Representative Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Republicans said Democrats endangered the country by trying to pass a resolution they characterized as an empty political gesture, at the start of a U.S. general election year.

"Instead of supporting the president, my Democrat colleagues are dividing Americans at a critical time," said Representative Mike McCaul, ranking Republican on the foreign affairs panel. He said the resolution would "tie the president's hands."

The fate of the resolution is uncertain in the Senate. Republicans hold 53 of the chamber's 100 seats and rarely vote against the president. But at least two Republican senators - Rand Paul and Mike Lee - have expressed support for the measure.

If passed by the House and Senate, the measure does not need Trump's signature to go into effect, although Democrats and Republicans disagreed over whether it was binding.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi faulted the White House for failing to consult Congress before the drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad last week.

"Last week, in our view, the president - the administration - conducted a provocative, disproportionate attack against Iran, which endangered Americans," Pelosi told a news conference.

U.S. officials said on Thursday the government believes Iran accidentally shot down a Ukrainian airliner shortly after Iran fired missiles at two U.S. military bases in Iraq, while Iran was on high alert.

Trump called Pelosi "Crazy" on Twitter, and told reporters he did not need Congress' approval for military action against Iran. "I don't have to and you shouldn't have to, because you have to be able to make split-second decisions sometimes. Sometimes you have to move very, very quickly," he said.

The War Powers Act, which was passed in 1973 as Congress reacted to secret bombings during the bitterly divisive Vietnam War, says the House and Senate can pass a resolution to force the withdrawal of troops engaged in a foreign conflict without Congress' consent.

It was not immediately clear what would follow if the resolution passes the Senate. Legal questions about Congress' power over the president's role as commander-in-chief are unresolved.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, insisted the resolution would have no power over Trump. He called it a "meaningless vote" at his weekly news conference.

Democrats disagreed, noting that the U.S. Constitution gives Congress, not the president, the power to declare war. The resolution's passage, they said, would send a strong message that Trump must work with lawmakers on national security.

The White House opposed the resolution.

"This concurrent resolution is misguided, and its adoption by Congress could undermine the ability of the United States to protect American citizens whom Iran continues to seek to harm," the Statement of Administration Policy said. 

(REUTERS)

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