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House Set To Vote On War Powers Resolution


The House has passed a resolution to limit President Trump's authority to strike Iran. The vote was mostly along party lines. Like presidents Obama and Bush, Trump is operating off of expansive war-making powers that Congress granted the president after the 9/11 attacks. Today's measure in an effort by Congress to claw back some of that power. In a statement, the White House called it a political move and a ridiculous resolution.

NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us from Capitol Hill. Hi, Sue.


SHAPIRO: This is not the first time Congress has struggled with how much war power they have ceded to the presidency. Why did the killing of Soleimani prompt them to act now?

DAVIS: Well, I think it was a pretty stark reminder to Congress that the president - not just President Trump, essentially any president - has the power to do what they want, when they want to do it when it comes to a question of limited military strikes. The fear now among some lawmakers - not all of them - is that if the president chooses to engage Iran further, maybe even striking Iran directly, that they wouldn't feel the need to come to Congress and say they already have the authority to do it.

SHAPIRO: After the strike on Soleimani, both the House and Senate are now considering new war powers resolutions. But each branch has got a different approach, so walk us through them.

DAVIS: So the House resolution states that the president could not strike Iran without asking Congress for permission first. But here's a really important thing about this resolution - it's nonbinding. It's symbolic. It doesn't have the force of law, which I think speaks to Congress' commitment on this issue.


DAVIS: Democrats could have brought up a binding resolution, but they chose not to. Over in the Senate, Tim Kaine, senator from Virginia - he's a Democrat - is offering a binding resolution that would prevent further strikes against Iran. But it doesn't amount to much if both Houses of Congress don't pass it, and obviously, President Trump would probably veto it if it landed on his desk.

SHAPIRO: Why is Congress reluctant to take back what is, as the Constitution states, a power that belongs with the legislative branch?

DAVIS: Pelosi - Speaker Pelosi talked about that today, and I think she was pretty candid in saying that, you know, redefining these war authorizations is harder than you think. You have to define the timing of them, the scope, the geography. And that's a big question that Congress hasn't wanted to answer. There's some, you know, substantive fear here that doing that could inadvertently tie a president's hands. And, you know, lawmakers don't want to be blamed for that, and that's where the political calculation often comes into play.

I think about it this way. If you think about since 9/11, when these powers were given to the presidency, Congress has been controlled by almost every combination - Democrats have controlled it, Republicans have controlled it, it's been split controlled. And in every power equation, the question of repealing those powers has come up, and every combination of power blinks and they don't do it. I'd also say, you know, it's important to know that a lot of lawmakers don't want to limit the president's authority. Florida Senator Marco Rubio is one of them, and this is what he told reporters this week.


MARCO RUBIO: Every president is authorized by the Constitution of the United States - not just authorized but required to protect the United States and particularly our men and women when we deploy them abroad.

SHAPIRO: Does this issue split the parties along Democratic-Republican lines as evenly as some of the other divisive issues that Congress has been wrestling with?

DAVIS: It blurs them in sort of unusual ways. I think there are both Republicans and Democrats who want to claw back this power, but they see it more of a separation of powers, a constitutional question. Here's Mark Pocan. He's a Democrat from Wisconsin. He's one of the most liberal members of the House.


MARK POCAN: I think that's part of the problem. Congress has given up, for decades, too much of our power, and I think this is finally a moment maybe to wake everyone up and try to reclaim some of that power.

DAVIS: And here's Mike Lee. He's one of the most conservative Republicans in the United States Senate.


MIKE LEE: It is not acceptable for officials within the executive branch of government - I don't care whether they're with the CIA, with the Department of Defense or otherwise - to come in and tell us that we can't debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran. It's un-American. It's unconstitutional. And it's wrong.

DAVIS: That's a lot of tough talk from Capitol Hill but not to expect much action when it comes to actually limiting the president's authority.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis.

Thanks, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF EX-POETS' "STILL WAITING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.