House passes resolution to limit Trump's power to wage war on Iran, 224-194

The outcome was predictable, the actual votes a bit less so. Any of these names look familiar?

Seven of the eight Democrats who voted with Trump on this one represent red districts and a few of them represent very red districts. Horn, Cunningham, and McAdams were all closely watched during the impeachment vote because their home jurisdictions run Republican by 10 points or better. It was big news when Pelosi kept them in line and in favor of impeachment, as it made their chances of being reelected next year with Trump on the ballot that much thinner.

Today’s vote is a consolation prize to Trump fans back home, a pander to try to calm their anger. But what it amounts to in practice is that a guy whom they voted to impeach because they don’t trust him not to commit crimes in conducting foreign policy just got a blank check from them to prosecute war with Iran. Think on that one for awhile.

The Republican yes votes were interesting too. There weren’t many, but one name sticks out:

Thomas Massie and Justin Amash are the two purest libertarians left in the House. They were a cinch to vote yes on a measure to constrain the president’s warmaking powers, and both did. Francis Rooney is another name whom you might remember from impeachment, a Romney pal who’s retiring from Congress and was outspoken about his concerns over Trump’s conduct towards Ukraine. He ended up voting against impeachment but had a freer hand to side with Democrats today. Then comes the big surprise — Matt Gaetz? One of the president’s most loyal toadies in the GOP caucus, siding with Pelosi on limiting his authority over war, of all things? Was that a mistake?

Not a mistake. Gaetz does have some principles he’ll stand for amid all that MAGA cheerleading. Limited executive power over war is one. Good for him:

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a close Trump ally who has publicly defended the strike, spent a significant amount of time following Wednesday’s briefings in discussions with House Democrats about fine-tuning the resolution. On Thursday, he announced on the floor that he would support it.

“I support the president, killing Soleimani was the right decision. But engaging in another forever war in the Middle East would be the wrong decision,” Gaetz said, announcing his yes vote.

Gaetz was shrewd in picking his spot here. The House resolution was going to pass with or without his vote; he had a bit of cover from Massie and Rooney in voting yes; and most importantly, there’s no scenario in which the resolution actually becomes law. Even if the Senate passes Tim Kaine’s corresponding resolution, Trump would veto the final bill and neither chamber would have anything close to the two-thirds majorities it needs to override him. In America 2019, despite the Constitution’s explicit grant to Congress of the power to declare war, the default is that the president can initiate practically any war he wants without pre-approval. Congress’s feeble authority is limited to trying to deny him that power and only then if it can muster supermajorities in both chambers. Which it can’t, and probably never will.

And even if it could, how would that law even operate? If Congress acted to limit the president’s authority to 30 days of hostilities and the president kept giving orders on day 31, how would SCOTUS get the troops to pack up the tents and come home if it ruled for Congress in the ensuing court battle?

But wait. Today’s resolution is even more feeble than it seems. It’s not even designed to become law:

House Democrats opted to use a concurrent resolution — the type that is considered to be enacted once both chambers approve it and is never presented to the president for his signature — rather than a joint resolution, which Mr. Trump could veto.

“This is a statement of the Congress of the United States,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters, “and I will not have that statement be diminished by whether the president will veto it or not.”

The Supreme Court ruled in 1983 that to have legal effect, an action of Congress must be presented to the president for signature or veto. But Ms. Pelosi insisted on Thursday, without elaborating, that the House measure would have legal teeth.

What we’re on track for here is actually a perfect political outcome for our elected representatives, successfully passing a symbolic gesture that formally records their skepticism about war with Iran without doing anything meaningful to stop it. If hostilities between Trump and Iran turn hot and things go badly, Pelosi and the Dems can point to today’s resolution and say, “We told you so. Our judgment that this war would go badly was sound. Republicans should be punished for not listening to us.” If instead things go well, they can just shrug it off and say they’re happy to have been proved wrong. “Surely no one will fault us for being overcautious about spending American blood and treasure on a war with a major Middle Eastern power.”

Anyway, on to the Senate. Thanks to Rand Paul and Mike Lee, Schumer should have 49 votes in the bank for Kaine’s resolution right now. Kaine told WaPo today that he’s working on getting Susan Collins and Todd Young of Indiana to join the team too. That’s enough to pass the resolution and rebuke Trump — symbolically. Half-heartedly. In lieu of an exit question, enjoy Mike Lee trying to atone for yesterday’s harsh criticism of the Senate’s natsec briefing by assuring Fox viewers that he’s still true-blue MAGA, baby.

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