WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned the Trump administration against taking military action in Iran without authorization from Congress, as the U.S. weighs how to respond to rising tensions in the Middle East.
“The responsibility in the Constitution is for Congress to declare war,” Pelosi said Thursday. “So I hope that the president’s advisers recognize that they have no authorization to go forward in any way.”
Pelosi said that the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force — or AUMF — enacted by Congress after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks would not cover actions taken against Iran. She said that, like President Donald Trump, she opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and she welcomed reports this week that the president had “no appetite” for war, a characterization offered by Republican Sen. Mitt Romney.
“I like what I hear from the president that he has ‘no appetite’ for this,” she said. “Even though some of his supporters are rattling sabers.”
Trump suggested Thursday he wasn’t looking for a military confrontation even as his advisers warn Iran against any provocation. Tensions have been rising with the Islamic Republic over U.S. allegations that Tehran may be preparing an attack on U.S. military forces in the region or on commercial shipping.
“I hope not,” Trump told reporters on Thursday after he was asked about going to war with Iran while greeting Swiss President Ueli Maurer for a meeting at the White House.
Congressional leaders and Intelligence Committee chairmen from both chambers were briefed Thursday by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and the National Security Agency’s Paul Nakasone, according to a congressional aide. Leaving the closed-door meeting, Pelosi said there will be a briefing for all House members next week.
Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky and one of the president’s allies on domestic issues, said he worries that the recent moves by the administration risk dragging the U.S. into a war with Iran.
“There are people who do want a war for regime change and they don’t mind putting all the people so close together that there might be a skirmish that leads to war,” Paul said. “I think that would be a terrible tragedy.”
Paul is a co-sponsor of legislation introduced by Democratic Sen.Tom Udall that would “limit the use of funds for kinetic military operations in or against Iran.” He is the only Republican sponsor of that bill.
Other Republicans said they were comfortable giving the White House more leeway to respond to perceived threats.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Trump was trying to head off a debate about the use of military force altogether by deterring hostile actions from Iran and Iranian-backed combatants in the Middle East. He said he believes that the administration will act in a “thoughtful” way.
“There’s no action that’s being taken,” McCarthy said. “What has transpired today is the administration is trying to make sure there is not. It’s sending a very clear message to Iran.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, said U.S. forces have the right to protect themselves if attacked and that questions about congressional authorization would not be relevant in this situation.
“If Iran attacks us, they’re going to get hit hard,” Rubio said. “If they don’t attack us, there’ll be no war. It’s up to them.”
Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said recent Iranian action in the Persian Gulf is “cause for concern.”
Thornberry, who has been briefed by Central Command officials and intelligence staff over the last two weeks, said sending a signal to Iranians not to attack Americans “seems like the prudent thing to do.” He said he’s not concerned that the Trump’s administration’s response could be politically motivated.
Sen. Richard Durbin, a member of Democratic leadership, said he voted against the Iraq war because he wasn’t convinced of the intelligence, and he fears the U.S. could be heading toward a repeat. He also warned that miscalculation when tensions are high could lead to fatalities, followed by calls for retribution.
The Illinois Democrat said Trump has surrounded himself with advisers “who believe that getting tough on a military basis with Iran is in our best interest. I do not.”