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House votes to restrain Trump on war with Iran, setting up showdown with the Senate

  • Author: Karoun Demirjian, The Washington Post
  • Updated: July 12, 2019
  • Published July 12, 2019

WASHINGTON - The House voted Friday to prevent President Donald Trump from launching into war with Iran without getting Congress’ approval first, after more than two dozen Republicans joined Democrats to include the provision in the House’s annual defense authorization bill.

The move sets up a likely showdown with the Senate over whether the Iran restriction, which includes an exception for cases of self-defense, will be included in the final bill negotiated between the two chambers. Republican leaders in the House and Senate have argued that the language would send a bad message to Tehran that the United States is divided, complicating the president's ability to manage escalating tensions.

The Iran amendment is just one of several high-profile measures that lawmakers voted this week to include in the first defense authorization bill Democrats have steered through the House since taking over the majority earlier this year. Those measures, which range from ending U.S. participation in Saudi Arabia's military campaign in Yemen to undoing Trump's ban on transgender troops, helped secure the support of liberal Democrats from the congressional Progressive Caucus, who had previously warned that they might vote against the defense bill.

But those measures risked losing Democrats what waning Republican support existed for the House's defense bill. Republican leaders have accused Democrats of playing politics in a way that is "shameful," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Friday morning.

"Our national security is not a game. But that is exactly how Democrats are treating it," McCarthy said of the bill.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., visibly riled at the charge, retorted that Republicans "can opposite it, that's fine, but to say we don't care about national security . . . is a baldfaced lie."

"In fact, our bill isn't just good, it's better than the ones that the Republican Party has put together, because we believe the Pentagon should be accountable," Smith continued.

At the heart of the dispute between Republicans and Democrats is a disagreement over how much money Congress should allocate to the Pentagon and military this year. Republicans and the Trump administration want a $750 billion bill, which is the overall size of the defense authorization bill that the Senate passed last month. But the House's bill clocks in at $733 billion - a figure that Smith argued military leaders endorsed previously.

For liberal Democrats, $733 billion was too steep a jump over the current fiscal year’s $717 billion authorization. In an effort to level out spending, they proposed a $16.8 billion reduction to the war funding authorized under the bill, but the effort failed to pass the House Friday morning, after Republicans and many Democrats opposed it.