Pa.’s Congressional delegation splits on party lines on House vote to check Trump on Iran

The U.S. Capitol at night (Image via Flickr Commons)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House voted Thursday on a resolution to curtail President Donald Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran without first securing congressional approval. 

The chamber voted 224-194, largely along party lines, to approve the resolution from Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), which would direct Trump to halt the use of U.S. armed forces for hostilities against Iran unless it’s authorized by Congress or it’s “necessary and appropriate to defend against an imminent armed attack” against the United States. 

The vote on the resolution came days after Trump ordered the killing of a top Iranian general, Qassim Suleimani, who was in Iraq at the time. Military officials said Suleimani had active plans to kill Americans, but Trump’s critics in Congress have said the evidence of such a threat hasn’t been sufficient to risk a U.S. war against Iran.

“Last week in our view, the president, the administration conducted a provocative, disproportionate air strike against Iran, which endangered Americans and did so without consulting Congress,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Thursday ahead of the vote. “The administration must de-escalate and must prevent further violence. America and the world cannot afford war.”  

All nine of Pennsylvania’s Democratic House delegation voted in favor of the resolution, according to an official House roll call.

Eight of the state’s nine Republican members of Congress voted against the non-binding resolutions. U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, did not cast a ballot. Fitzpatrick’s brother, former Bucks County Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, died Monday, aged 56, after a long battle with cancer.

Three Republicans and Michigan independent Rep. Justin Amash joined Democrats to vote for the resolution. Eight Democrats voted against the measure. 

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a staunch Trump ally, was among the Republicans who supported the Democratic-led effort. 

“If the members of our armed services have the courage to go and fight and die in these wars, as Congress, we ought to have the courage to vote for them or against them,” Gaetz said. “I support the president. Killing Suleimani was the right decision but engaging in another forever war in the Middle East would be the wrong decision.”  

Another Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie, of Kentucky, said ahead of the vote that his decision to vote for the resolution wasn’t “about supporting or opposing President Trump.” 

Massie voted for Trump in 2016 and he plans to vote for him again, he said. “This vote is about exercising our constitutional authority, but more importantly, our moral obligation to decide when and where are troops are going to be asked to give their lives.” 

‘Constitutional responsibility’ 

Slotkin, a freshman Democrat and a former CIA analyst, said the resolution was more than a theoretical exercise for her. Slotkin’s husband is a U.S. Army veteran, her step-daughter is an Army officer and her son-in-law’s unit is stationed at Ain al-Assad air base in Iraq, which was targeted by Iranian missiles this week, she said. 

“If our loved ones are going to be sent to fight in any protracted war, the president owes the American public a conversation,” Slotkin said. She stressed that her resolution doesn’t tie the president’s hands when it comes to defending the United States. But when it comes to longer-term war, “We have a constitutional responsibility to authorize the use of military force.”

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, said Trump’s escalation with Iran “makes us less safe.”

“During this increasingly perilous time escalation makes us less safe. Congress must remind the president that as the Constitution mandates – Congress must authorize acts of war,” she said. “We must always defend America’s security, but we should never create needless provocation and I encourage the administration to continue to de-escalate – and I pray that he pursues a path to peace.”

In a statment, Evans called Trump’s approach to foreign policy “erratic,” and unsuccessful, and argued that it was up to Congress to check his war-making power.

“When the founders wrote our Constitution in Philadelphia, they spelled this out very clearly: ‘The Congress shall have Power To … declare War.’ It’s right there in Article I, Section 8,” Evans said. “The founders gave the war power to the branch of government that is most accountable to the people.

Many House Republicans lined up to defend the president ahead of the vote, as some accused Democrats of putting politics ahead of national security. 

Freshman U.S. Rep. John Joyce, R-13th District, a staunch Trump ally said the Democrats’ attempt to “to strip our Commander-in-Chief of the ability to protect American lives – during the week of an attack on our troops – is the wrong move. Congress should be standing together against Iranian threats and provocations.”

Writing on Twitter, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-11th District, said the Democrats’ action “weaken[ed] America.”

“On the heels of the Democrats’ partisan impeachment failure, they are once again working to weaken America and ignore the Constitution simply because they disagree with the President,” Smucker wrote.

In floor remarks, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th District, called the Democratic resolution “insincere and unserious.”

The Senate could vote as early as next week on a similar resolution from Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine. 

Kaine has been courting Republicans on his effort, which would direct Trump to remove U.S. forces from hostilities against Iran within 30 days unless authorized by a declaration of war or a specific authorization for the use of military force. 

Two Senate Republicans — Sens. Mike Lee, of Utah, and Rand Paul, of Kentucky,  — have said they will support the measure, The Hill reported.  Pennsylvania’s two senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey, diverged sharply on the bill

With Democrats (including two independents who caucus with the party) holding 47 seats in the chamber and interest among Republicans, there’s a chance Kaine’s resolution will get the 51 votes needed to clear the GOP-controlled Senate. 

Kaine told reporters earlier this week, “We should jealously guard the power to initiate war, not let a president take that step on his own.” Regardless of the resolution’s passage, the Virginia Democrat said he wanted to use the opportunity to get senators on the record. 

“It’s ultimately calling on Congress to not be chicken,” he said.