As President Donald Trump forges ahead with confusing but brawny messaging around his plans to continue military pressure on Iran, Democrats and anti-war protesters remain relatively powerless in their actions to prevent the impending march toward more conflict in the Middle East.
Congress, led by Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi, voted Thursday on a resolution to stymie Trump’s ability to take further military action in Iran without congressional approval, a vote that is at best symbolically potent and at worse pointless: The bill very likely will be squashed in the Senate and lacks the support in Congress to override a veto by the president.
Large anti-war protests are also planned around the nation Thursday evening (at least 250 in 42 states), which will certainly be a show of force and might even illicit some tweets from the President, but will unlikely do anything but galvanize those who are already against further action in Iran.
A call to publicize the march Wednesday evening featured speeches from presidential candidates and Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), but Rahna Epting, election program managing director at MoveOn, warned protesters that “this is a long-term campaign, and something we’ll need to do for a while in order to push this administration away from a march to war and an aggressive foreign policy and back towards progressive diplomacy.”
Holding the President accountable for war, she said, would likely best be done at the ballot box 10 months from now, adding that we still “need to make sure that those in Congress do everything they can to prevent him from escalating this and pull us back from the brink of war.”
Jamal Abdi of the National Iranian American Council agreed that “the best way to hold Trump accountable is in November,” and “while we’re going to do everything can on the Hill, it’s obviously going to be tough with a Republican Senate.”
On the Hill, Democratic talking points were also lackluster.
“We’re not hopeless,” former presidential candidate and California Congressman Eric Swalwell said on MSNBC Thursday afternoon. Swalwell once again stressed the “power of the ballot box” and said that Congress would continue to hold the president accountable by using subpoena power to get those associated with the Trump administration to testify on Iran.
Others focused on feelings. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told the press that the general attitude of the Trump administration toward Congress was “offensive.” According to Kaine, key administrators told senators and representatives that they did not need to consult with Congress before attacking and had a general “attitude of dismissiveness.”
On a call ahead of mass protests, Senator Warren stressed the importance of speaking up to say, “We do not want another war in the Middle East, we do not want another war with Iran,” and that “war with Iran would be bad for us bad for region and bad for the world.”
Sanders, meanwhile, cited his long term insistence that the Senate limit executive war powers, but did note that he’s been defeated in the past. Sanders chided both Democratic and Republican lawmakers for getting themselves into this current situation.
“I will be working to make sure we pass a War Powers Act which makes it clear that the constitution says it is I the Congress, not the President, who determines who goes to war,” he said. “I’m afraid Congress has forgot about that, under Republican and Democratic administrations.”
The Trump administration, meanwhile, has deployed key surrogates to fight against Pelosi by proposing a complete end to the War Powers Resolution, which was enacted in the midst of the Vietnam War in 1973 and requires Congress to approve of any war or act of war unless there is a national emergency “created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”
The resolution is considered a key check of executive power by the legislative branch, but has proven to be relatively ineffective. Trump has the ability to veto legislation passed under the War Powers Act, and no Congress has ever been able to get the supermajority vote required to overturn a President’s veto and successfully stop war actions.
Still, Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton tweeted Thursday that “the 1973 War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional. It reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Constitution allocated foreign affairs authority between the President and Congress.” He concluded that “the Resolution should be repealed.”
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the President’s former press secretary, took to Fox & Friends Thursday morning to add that she couldn’t “think of anything dumber” than authorizing Congress to declare war. “They can’t seem to manage to get much of anything done. I think the last thing we want to do is push powers into Congress’ hands and take them away from the President,” she said.
The Trump administration’s aggression against the act does show that there’s a bit of fear that Congress could be effective, at least in pushing public perception.
Two key Senate allies of Trump, Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Paul Ryan (R-Ky.), spoke out after a White House briefing on Iran.
“It was probably the worst briefing I’ve seen at least on a military issue in the nine years I’ve served in the United States Senate,” said Lee of the White House’s justification of the attacks. “I find this insulting and demeaning,” he added, saying he would vote with Democrats on the war powers resolution. “That briefing changed my mind.”
Ryan told the press that “today, this is Senator Lee and I saying we are not abdicating our duty.”
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