What Is The War Powers Act?

Jan 13, 2020 By Diana P, Writer
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Missile attack on a carImagine if another country targeted and killed the Vice President of the United States, a well-known and influential political figure.

This may seem unfathomable, yet this is what happened to Iran when President Trump ordered a drone strike against Major General Qassim Soleimani, deemed the second most powerful person in the country (read our article here).

This attack has prompted lawmakers to vote to restrain Trump’s war powers concerning Iran. Let's find out why.


Lack Of Evidence

Qasem SoleimaniThe White House claims that it was responding to an "imminent and sinister attack” against the United States. However, it has not provided convincing evidence to members of Congress.

Vice President Pence claimed that Iran and Soleimani were involved in the planning of the 9/11 terrorist attack. This is a blatant falsehood, according to the 9/11 Commission, the organization which investigated 9/11. 

Trump later stated that U.S. intelligence determined that Soleimani was trying to bomb a U.S. embassy in Baghdad, citing protests near the embassy. These protests had already ended when Trump ordered the strike, and there is no evidence of a supposed bombing. 

This lack of evidence has infuriated Democrats and Republicans alike, who believe that the assassination appears to be a rash decision that has led to the increasing tensions between Iran and the United States.

Restricting Trump’s Military Powers

According to the U.S Constitution, the legislative branch (Congress) has the right to declare and manage wars, while the President acts as the Commander-in-Chief of the army in such wars.

This separation of war powers was challenged by the House of Representatives when it voted to restrain Trump’s military power in Iran, stating that he must get clearance from Congress for any further military action.

Soldiers in Vietnam WarThe legal basis for this comes from the War Powers Resolution, which Congress enacted in 1973. President Nixon had been continually launching military incursions in Vietnam without notifying Congress. So Congress voted in the resolution, overriding Nixon’s veto.

This forced the President to inform Congress about military attacks within 48 hours of them occurring and to withdraw troops after 60 days if Congress had not authorized it. Historically, the resolution has not been used as a way to stop military conflicts, despite times when presidents have cited questionable evidence. 

For the recent vote, the House opted for a concurrent resolution, meaning that the president cannot veto or sign it into law. The Republican-controlled Senate may not vote it in either. Instead, the resolution appears to be more symbolic and a strong message to the White House that the executive branch (U.S President) cannot act with impunity. 

Sources: NYTimes, WashingtonPost, BBC, MSNBC, Whitehouse.gov