In another win for reaffirming Congress’ role in matters of war, the House passed an amendment prohibiting the use of funds for an unauthorized war with Iran:
The 251-170 vote reflects lawmakers’ growing desire to take back long-ceded authority over matters of war and peace from the executive branch, a reclamation legislators contend has grown increasingly urgent amid escalating tensions with Iran. It also reflected a war weariness on both sides of the aisle after 17 years of conflict in the Middle East; 27 Republicans joined all but seven Democrats to approve it.
The language of the amendment is quite clear (see pages 5714-5715 in the linked document). Unless authorized by Congress, no funds can be used to support military action “in or against Iran.” Contrary to the false claims of Republican hawks, the amendment doesn’t prevent the U.S. from being able to act in self-defense if attacked. The amendment specifically states:
The prohibition under paragraph (1) shall not apply to a use of military force that is consistent with section (2)(c) of the War Powers Resolution.
The section of the War Powers Resolution cited here says the following:
(c) The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.
In short, the amendment confirms that Congress alone has the authority to decide when and where the U.S. goes to war, it rejects specious claims that the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs authorize using force against Iran, and it rejects using government funds for illegal warfare. You couldn’t ask for a more straightforward affirmation of Congress’ constitutional responsibility in matters of war, and you couldn’t ask for a more clear-cut repudiation of unauthorized war against Iran, so the amendment should have passed with overwhelming numbers. The arguments that Republican hawks made in opposition to the amendment were exceptionally weak. The hawkish case against this amendment amounted to accusing supporters of giving “assistance to adversaries,” in the words of Rep. Thornberry of Texas, and complaining that Congress was “handcuffing” the president or “tying the president’s hands.” If the president thinks he has the authority to initiate hostilities against Iran (or any other country) on his own, we should want Congress to be handcuffing him and tying his hands with as many bonds and shackles as they can find. Respecting the Constitution should never be dismissed as handing a foreign government a propaganda win, but that is how the opponents of the amendment chose to describe this effort.
Like the amendment that shuts off funding for all operations in support of the war on Yemen, this one may or may not make it through to the final bill, but its passage is still an important sign of how far Congress has come in the last few years in reasserting their role in matters of war. Getting Congress to debate and take seriously their authority over war powers was like pulling teeth just a few years ago. Now there is a growing and bipartisan coalition in Congress that is debating and voting on legislation aimed at reclaiming what our representatives have been abandoning for decades. There is still a lot more work to be done, but there has been remarkable progress in this area in just the last two years.
It is important that Congress move to block funding for illegal war with Iran now. In the past, Congress has been reluctant to cut off funding to an illegal war once it is already underway. By stating clearly before there is an illegal war that Congress won’t provide any funding for it, that should help to discourage any administration from starting such a war.