Will Congress confront Trump on Iran?

June 21, 2019

A U.S. drone was shot down during an “unprovoked attack” in international airspace above the Strait of Hormuz on June 20, according to U.S. Central Command; although Iran’s Revolutionary Guard disputed that claim—saying that it had struck the aircraft after it entered the nation’s airspace.

It was another “shot heard round the world”—but the U.S. Congress is hoping that the results will not be the same: combat and bloodshed, this time in Iran.

The news comes amid rising tensions in the region, The Daily Beast reports, after American officials blamed Iran on June 13 for what they said was an attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Iran at that time also denied any involvement.

And as the possibility of armed conflict with Iran grows stronger, legislators are struggling to settle on what—if anything—they are obligated to do, as the only branch with the constitutional authority to declare war.

Many lawmakers, including a odd-couple coalition of libertarian-minded Republicans and mainstream and progressive Democrats, are increasingly worried that the Trump administration might use, as a legal basis for war, the 18-year old authorization of military force ( or AUMF) that Congress approved immediately after the September 11 attacks, The Daily Beast noted. And as the possibility of conflict inches closer, they are making a play to force the administration to come to Congress and actually convince them military action is necessary.

Senators Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) co-authored a letter to President Trump on June 18, calling on him to explain his recent decisions to deploy additional troops to the Middle East. In the letter, the Senators asked for more information on the troops’ missions and expressed concern about escalating tensions leading to a war between the United States and Iran. They underscored the fact that the Trump Administration does not have the authority to start a war with Iran without authorization from Congress. Other signatories included Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) , Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), and Rand Paul (R-Kentucky).

In addition, Kaine and several others, including Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), had filed an amendment the week before to the annual Department of Defense spending authorization that would block funds for a conflict with Iran unless Congress explicitly authorizes military action.

“The administration desperately wants to avoid coming to Congress on this, and it looks like they’re constructing an argument, the purpose of which is to avoid Congress,” said Kaine. “The purpose is not really to make a great argument about the 2001 AUMF.”

And in the House, The Daily Beast said, Representatives Ro Khanna (D-California) and Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) announced on June 17 that theywould introduce a resolution to block the administration from going to war with Iran on the basis of the 2001 AUMF. Such a measure would require Trump to obtain explicit congressional approval for any hostilities with Iran. Khanna told The Daily Beast that their resolution will likely make it to the House floor next week as an amendment to the House’s Pentagon authorization bill.

In the past, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has linked Iran with al Qaeda—which is specifically named in the 2001 AUMF—and claimed that the Iranian government has supported them, the news outlet reported. That claim is hotly contested by Iran experts.

President Trump, himself, has said repeatedly that he does not wish to escalate military actions into a war—but he also has refused to cooperate with Congress in recent weeks. What happens now is anybody’s guess.

Research contact: @thedailybeast

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