WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday passed a resolution that supporters cast as a bid to prevent President Donald Trump from escalating the conflict with Iran without congressional approval.
But those on the other side denounced the nonbinding, largely symbolic measure as undermining the commander in chief and encouraging the nation’s enemies.
“This resolution weakens America and gives hope to the ayatollah that we don’t have the resolve to stand up to these attacks,” Rep. Don Bacon said on the House floor. “A house divided will not stand.”
The Omaha-area congressman and the rest of Nebraska’s all-Republican delegation voted against the resolution, which passed 224-194.
Eight Democrats crossed the aisle to oppose it, while three Republicans and one independent voted in favor.
Bacon, a retired Air Force brigadier general, has been particularly outspoken in defending Trump’s decision to kill Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force.
Bacon has described the issue as a personal one given his multiple deployments to the Middle East. In particular, he cited his time in Iraq more than 10 years ago.
“We were targeted by rockets every single day from Iranian proxies trained in, funded by and armed by Iran and sometimes led by Iranian commanders. And fellow Americans died,” Bacon said. “This guy killed 609 Americans in Iraq alone. He was the mastermind. Does it take a hundred more? Two hundred more or three hundred more?”
Democrats insisted that they shed no tears for Soleimani and were glad to see him gone, but they said they want to prevent an impulsive president from marching the country into yet another war.
They pointed to Trump’s tweets touting America’s brand-new military equipment and his threats to strike Iran’s cultural sites — strikes that could be considered war crimes.
Sign up for World-Herald news alerts
Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.
Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, voted for the resolution but stressed afterward in a statement that the world is a safer place without Soleimani.
“I also believe that the consequences of an open war with Iran are too great to rest solely with a single branch of government,” Axne said. “A decision to go to war will always impact Americans, and Congress must use its voice.”
Several Democrats vying for their party’s nomination to face Bacon in November’s election have spoken out about the Iran situation.
On Twitter, Gladys Harrison criticized the president for threatening war crimes, while Morgann Freeman called the strike on Soleimani a “gross abuse of power that endangers America.”
Kara Eastman, who is seeking a rematch with Bacon, said in a statement that she agrees with two Republican senators, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky, who criticized the administration’s briefings this week as inadequate and said elected officials must be able to fully debate military intervention.
“This is especially the case when the lives of American servicemen and women and their families are at stake,” she said. “It is absolutely Congress’ prerogative and imperative to demand transparency and accountability, and the Trump administration and Rep. Don Bacon are wrong to suggest otherwise.”
Another contender to face Bacon, Ann Ashford, said that Congress has ceded too much authority to the executive branch and that the resolution is about making sure that “any president brings Congress into the loop before taking such serious acts.”
As for Trump’s talk about striking Iran’s cultural sites, Bacon said some of those sites would fall into a gray area because they have dual use.
Blowing up strictly cultural sites would be a war crime, Bacon said. But the retired general added that if such an order were given, he would expect military leaders to advise the president that it was not legal.
“I was taught on day one at officer training school you never follow an illegal order, anyway,” he said.
Bacon said Thursday’s resolution was unnecessary because the president doesn’t want war and is seeking to de-escalate the situation while making clear that Iran can’t get away with killing Americans.
“There has been lots of restraint shown, and I don’t think that works for Iran,” he said. “They need to know there’s brass knuckles on the other end once in a while.”
Meanwhile, most Senate Republicans have been issuing statements supporting Trump.
Sen. Deb Fischer said after this week’s briefings that she believes that the president acted appropriately and responsibly to protect American lives.
“We do not want to go to war with Iran, but the president has been and remains committed to doing what is necessary to keep American citizens safe,” she said.
Democrat Chris Janicek, who is seeking his party’s nomination to challenge GOP Sen. Ben Sasse, suggested that Sasse is failing to check Trump and reassert congressional authority over waging war.
Sasse, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement after this week’s briefings that it was good news that Soleimani is dead.
“Here’s where things stand: The architect of Iran’s proxy war strategy is dead and the United States has the strong upper hand to deter further Iranian aggression.”