Lawmakers Still Fighting to Keep US Out of War With Iran

In this Sept. 3, 2018, file photo an American flag flies on the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
In this Sept. 3, 2018, file photo an American flag flies on the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The House began floor debate Wednesday on the massive defense policy bill, including the 3.1% military pay raise, as several Democrats pressed for an amendment that would block the use of military force against Iran unless Congress approved.

The House Iran amendment co-sponsored by Reps. Ro Khanna, D-California, and Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, is similar to another measure that failed in the Senate last month. The vote in the Senate was 50-40, but the amendment fell short of the 60 votes needed under Senate rules.

In breaking ranks with his party, Gaetz, a staunch supporter of the president, said in a statement last month that the proposed Iran amendment "affirms what President Trump knows and believes -- unfocused, unconstitutional, unending wars in the Middle East make America weaker, not stronger."

Continuing concern over the president's authority to attack Iran is one of a number of contentious issues that threaten to hold up passage of the National Defense Authorization Act.

In a 10-page policy statement issued Tuesday, White House officials said they will recommend that Trump veto the version of the NDAA that the House Democratic leadership is proposing, mainly over the size of the proposed fiscal 2020 defense budget.

The House has proposed $733 billion in overall defense spending, while the Senate last month passed a $750 billion proposal.

If the House version of the NDAA, including the $733 billion total and prohibitions on using defense money for the border wall, is presented to the president, "his advisers would recommend that he veto it," according to the statement by White House officials.

At a news conference outside the House on Wednesday, Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Massachusetts, one of the crowded field of candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, and five other Democrats charged that Trump cannot be trusted with unilateral authority to go to war with Iran.

The use of force against Iran requires "thorough debate of the facts, the findings, and the intelligence presented to us," and ultimately the approval of Congress before the president can act, Moulton said.

"Look, I fought Iranians when I was in Iraq," said Moulton, a Marine veteran. "We will fight them again if we have to, but war right now is not necessary."

Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colorado, a former Army Ranger who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Trump's tough talk on Iran ignores the true costs of a conflict. "When politicians talk tough in this town, real people get hurt."

Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-New Jersey, a former Navy helicopter pilot, said she wants to "make sure the president comes to us before we get into a conflict."

All of the Democrats at the news conference said it is no longer viable for the president to rely on the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, to justify new conflicts.

When asked whether it is pointless to press for an Iran amendment already rejected by the Senate, Moulton said a strong vote in the House would "give it oxygen" and possibly allow the measure to be revived in a conference committee with the Senate.

"At the end of the day, it's about doing the right thing," he said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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