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As White House Works to Crush Debate Over Legality of Iran Strike, Democrats Move Ahead With War Powers Vote

"Members of Congress aren't going to stand aside as Trump drags us into another possible war in the Middle East."

President Donald Trump address to the nation from the Grand Foyer at the White House on Wednesday, January 8, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

As the Trump administration on Wednesday reportedly pressured lawmakers behind closed doors to not debate or even discuss the legality of unilateral military action against Iran, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the House will vote Thursday on a War Powers Resolution aimed at curbing President Donald Trump's ability to attack Iran without congressional approval.

"Members of Congress have serious, urgent concerns about the administration's decision to engage in hostilities against Iran and about its lack of strategy moving forward," Pelosi said in a statement, referring to the assassination of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, which experts in international law have said was likely illegal.

"What I found so distressing about the briefing is one of the messages we received from the briefers was, 'Do not debate, do not discuss the issue of the appropriateness of further military intervention against Iran.'"
—Sen. Mike Lee
"To honor our duty to keep the American people safe, the House will move forward with a War Powers Resolution to limit the president's military actions regarding Iran," the House Speaker said. "This resolution, which will be led by Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, will go to the Rules Committee this evening and will be brought to the floor tomorrow."

Pelosi's announcement of the Thursday War Powers vote came after she faced progressive backlash over her earlier decision to delay the vote until next week, a move critics warned would be "irresponsible" given the urgency of restraining the reckless president and his hawkish administration.

The Speaker also said the House may consider Rep. Barbara Lee's (D-Calif.) legislation to repeal 2002 Iraq Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) and Rep. Ro Khanna's (D-Calif.) bill to bar funding for any military action against Iran taken without congressional approval.

"Members of Congress aren't going to stand aside as Trump drags us into another possible war in the Middle East," Khanna tweeted Wednesday.

The House Rules Committee approved paramaters for debate on the War Powers Resolution (pdf) in a party-line vote Wednesday night, setting up two hours of debate on the measure ahead of the vote Thursday.

The decision to move ahead with a vote on the War Powers Resolution came after members of Trump administration—including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and CIA Director Gina Haspel—privately briefed lawmakers on its justification for the drone strike last week that killed Soleimani and others in Baghdad.

Lawmakers from both parties emerged from the classified briefing furious at the Trump administration's inability to offer a shred of evidence justifying the deadly strike, which White House officials have publicly claimed was necessary due to an "imminent" threat Soleimani posed to American forces in Iraq.

Particularly angry was Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who told reporters late Wednesday afternoon that the "insulting" and "insane" intelligence briefing convinced him to support the War Powers Resolution introduced last week by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

Lee said administration officials essentially told members of Congress that they "need to be good little boys and girls and run along and not debate this in public."

"What I found so distressing about the briefing," Lee continued, "is one of the messages we received from the briefers was, 'Do not debate, do not discuss the issue of the appropriateness of further military intervention against Iran,' and that if you do 'You will be emboldening Iran.'"

"The implication being that somehow we would be making America less safe by having a debate or a discussion about the appropriateness of further military involvement against the government of Iran," said Lee. "Now, I find this insulting and demeaning—not personally, but to the office that each of the 100 persons in this building happens to hold."

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