By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON, Jan 9 (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.
The Democratic-controlled House voted 224-194, 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, senior Republican on the foreign affairs panel. He said the resolution would “tie the president’s hands.”
The White House also criticized the resolution’s passage in the House, calling it “ridiculous” and “just another political move.”
The resolution “attempts to hinder the President’s authority to protect America and our interests in the region from the continued threats,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement.
The fate of the resolution is uncertain in the Senate. Republicans hold 53 of the chamber’s 100 seats, 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 believed 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 of the U.S. military 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.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Toledo, Ohio; Editing by Leslie Adler and Peter Cooney)