WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Wednesday that the House would vote on Thursday to force President Trump to quickly wind down military action against Iran unless he is given explicit authorization from Congress, opening what promised to be a searing debate over presidential war powers.
Ms. Pelosi made her announcement as lawmakers breathed a sigh of relief on Capitol Hill after Mr. Trump announced he would back away from any military escalation against Tehran. But congressional Democrats, skeptical of the administration’s case for the drone strike last week that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani and dissatisfied with the rationale Mr. Trump’s team offered for taking it, pledged to press ahead with their efforts to rein in the president’s war-making authority.
They said they would press forward with a measure that would require that Mr. Trump cease all military action against Iran within 30 days unless Congress votes to approve it. The measure stands little chance in the Republican-controlled Senate, but it is certain to ignite a fierce debate over Mr. Trump’s strategy on Iran, and Congress’s role in curtailing a president’s ability to wage war.
“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,” Ms. Pelosi said in a statement. “Our concerns were not addressed by the president’s insufficient War Powers Act notification and by the administration’s briefing today.”
After a dizzying pace of developments in Washington unfolded overnight — missile strikes on Tuesday night on bases in Iraq where American troops are stationed, followed by Mr. Trump’s speech and a set of classified briefings by administration officials on Capitol Hill — by Wednesday afternoon, lawmakers had dug into their respective, partisan corners.
Republicans praised Mr. Trump for his show of restraint. He had been right to target General Suleimani, they argued, adding that the decision had been vindicated by Iran’s response, a telegraphed set of airstrikes that did not kill any Americans or Iraqis and seemed calculated to send a message rather than provoke further hostilities.
Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, commended the president’s “patience and prudence” in deliberating over how to respond to the strikes, which damaged two bases.
“As a superpower, we have the capacity to exercise restraint and to respond at a time and place of our choosing, if need be,” he said. “I believe the president wants to avoid conflict or needless loss of life. But he’s rightly prepared to protect American lives and interests.”
But Democrats voiced grave concerns about the president’s actions and what they called the dearth of credible information coming from the administration about his strategy on Iran. They added that the Iranian attacks had only strengthened their resolve to reassert Congress’s role in matters of war.
“America and the world cannot afford war,” Ms. Pelosi said.
Ms. Pelosi also said that the House may also vote on a pair of amendments to further constrain Mr. Trump’s war powers that Democrats included this year in the annual defense policy bill, but were ultimately stripped out before its final passage. One, led by Representative Ro Khanna of California, would bar the president from using funds provided by Congress to strike Iran without lawmakers’ permission; the other, led by Representative Barbara Lee of California, would repeal a 2002 measure granting President George W. Bush authorization to use military force in Iraq.
It is that authorization, along with the president’s power as commander in chief to defend United States forces against imminent threats, that the Trump administration has cited as justification for having targeted General Suleimani.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.