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What Rep. Ilhan Omar’s War Powers resolution would do, and why she introduced it now

The resolution would limit President Trump’s ability to engage in war with Iran.

Rep. Ilhan Omar
Rep. Ilhan Omar: "Let’s not mince words: the assassination of Qasem Soleimani was an act of war undertaken without Congressional authorization, in violation of the Constitution of the United States of America."
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis and Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced a resolution late last week to end hostilities against Iran not authorized by Congress.

Following the assasination of Qasem Soleimani by airstrike, a key Iranian official who was in charge of the country’s special forces equivalent, the White House has committed thousands of additional troops to the Middle East. Democrats in Congress are concerned about the lack of reasoning provided for the incursion, as well as what the action will mean moving forward.

“‪Let’s not mince words: the assassination of Qasem Soleimani was an act of war undertaken without Congressional authorization, in violation of the Constitution of the United States of America. Following the assassination, thousands of additional troops were sent to the Middle East in one of the largest rapid deployments seen in decades,” Omar said in a statement.

“This follows years of saber-rattling and threats of war against Iran by President Trump and his accomplices. We in Congress must exercise our Constitutional duty—and do everything in our power to stop another disastrous war.”

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So what exactly would Omar’s bill do? And how did we get to this point?

What is the War Powers Resolution?

The War Powers Resolution is a Federal law, first enacted in 1973, passed to check the power of the president to engage in armed conflict without congressional approval. The law requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of military action and prevents armed forces for remaining for more than 60 days. More pertinently, it says that the president can only send U.S. Armed Forces into action with congressional approval.

The War Powers Resolution introduced by Omar derives its authority from the aforementioned 1973 bill, also known as The War Powers Act. If passed, Omar’s bill would put an end to conflict with Iran not authorized by the U.S. Congress by requiring that any hostilities with Iran be explicitly put up for a vote and authorized by Congress.

The resolution is identical to a bill in the Senate, written by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). There, the resolution’s prospects are slim, as Democrats are in the minority. It is also likely that, should the resolution pass both chambers, the president would issue a veto, as he did with a similar effort to end U.S. support for a war in Yemen in April of last year. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) proposed a similar effort to lead a war powers resolution to a vote this week, although her proposal calls for the resolution to be led by Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), a former C.I.A. Analyst and Department of Defense official. It’s unclear how, if at all, Omar’s resolution will differ from Pelosi’s proposal.

“The Trump Administration’s provocative, escalatory and disproportionate military engagement continues to put servicemembers, diplomats and citizens of America and our allies in danger,” Pelosi said in a statement.

“This initiation of hostilities was taken without an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iran, without the consultation of the Congress and without the articulation of a clear and legitimate strategy to either the Congress or the public.”

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Why is the U.S. in conflict with Iran? 

Soleimani was the leader of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, an elite unit in Iran that dealt with overseas operations. He was killed on Friday by a U.S airstrike near the Baghdad airport.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the reason for the killing of of Solemani was that he was planning an “imminent attack” on U.S citizens and allies, but provided no public evidence of this.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said the President Trump did not brief the Gang of Eight — the top four congressional leaders and the top four lawmakers on intelligence committees — before the strike. The White House did provide Congress with a formal declaration of the drone strike, required under the War Powers Act, within 48 hours of the strike.

Iranian people carrying the coffin of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani
Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS
Iranian people carrying the coffin of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani during a funeral procession in Tehran on Monday.
Iran has threatened to retaliate, while President Trump has said any retaliation would result in the bombing of some 52 sites, including cultural heritage sites, which would be considered a war crime under both domestic and international law.

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran under this administration are not new. When President Trump took office, he withdrew the U.S. from a deal with Iran that provided sanctions relief in exchange for limitations on their nuclear weapons program. While Trump pulled out of the deal in May of 2018, since the strike on Friday, Iran said they will no longer honor the agreement. 

Why is Omar working with Barbara Lee on the resolution?

Omar is on the Foreign Affairs Committee, where she’s staked a claim as a decisively progressive voice for foreign policy in the U.S. Congress. But Omar introduced the legislation with another progressive stalwart, Barbara Lee of California.

Lee’s involvement is notable in that, in 2001, she was the only member of the House to vote against the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF), which authorized U.S. Armed Forces to be used “against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States.”

It is likely that Trump administration will cite both the 2001 AUMF and the 2002 AUMF, which authorized the use of armed forces in Iraq, as legal justification for their recent involvement in Iran.

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In a 2001 speech on the House floor, Lee called the AUMF an authorization for “an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target.”

“Barbara is an example of what it means to lead with integrity,” Omar told MinnPost in an interview late last month. “It’s good to never forget to be firm in what you stand for. To remind the people, as boldly, as loudly as possible on where they should stand. And to continue to do the work that needs to get done on behalf of your caucus, Congress and the country.”