Washington—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today led the floor debate on the War Powers Resolution (H.Con.Res. 83) to terminate any engagement of United States Armed Forces in hostilities against Iran. The Chairman delivered the following remarks on the House floor:
"We’re here this afternoon so that this body can exercise one of its most important constitutional responsibilities—deciding whether or not this country will wage war… whether or not we’ll check an executive that has brought our country to a dangerous brink.
"In recent months, tensions between the United States and Iran have ticked up, bit by bit, until this last week, when we found ourselves in a crisis like we haven’t seen in decades...
"So let’s be clear: the Iranians are responsible for their own harmful behavior. We know this is a regime that underwrites terrorism… that tries to strengthen its own position by fomenting instability and provocation. We know that about Iran. No one expects Iran to be the adult in the room when it comes to global affairs.
"What we do expect is that American leadership and American policy will be the moderating force.
"So the world was stunned last week when the Trump Administration chose instead the path toward escalation with the killing of Qassem Soleimani. We need to be honest about Soleimani—he was a bad guy. He had masterminded attacks and campaigns that cost thousands of innocent lives. In the places where we’ve seen Iran’s most harmful activity, Soleimani’s fingerprints were everywhere. He had American blood on his hands, and the world is better off without him.
"But are we really safer today, as the Administration claims, with American citizens told to get out of Iraq as fast as they can… Thousands of troops deploying to the Middle East… An eviction notice from the Iraqi government, whose partnership we depend on in the fight against ISIS… Iranian missiles endangering American personnel… It certainly doesn’t feel like we’re safer, and a poll out today shows that the American people agree.
"In foreign policy, you have to weigh decisions like this. As awful as Soleimani was, this action has endangered American lives and American security. The President and his advisors say they had no choice… that there was an imminent threat. Then they said, well, he had done bad things in the past and was going to do more bad things in the future. When they sent a report on the strike to Congress, the Administration took the highly unusual step of classifying it.
"And then yesterday, in a classified briefing, when members demanded to see the evidence that justified the strike, the message from the administration essentially boiled down to this: trust us. When we asked what’s the plan going forward, the administration essentially told members: trust us.
"'Trust us' is not good enough, Madam Speaker. Not for me, and not for the American people. Madam Speaker If they’re going to send our men and women in uniform into harm’s way, they shouldn’t hide the facts.
"First of all, this administration hasn’t given us any reason to believe that this is a fact. The foreign policy of this administration has undermined American leadership, cut our diplomats off at the knees, alienated our allies, and walked away from our obligations. We’ve lurched from crisis to crisis, each time hoping that the situation won’t spin out of control. I call it fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants foreign policy, and it’s no way to advance American interests and values on the global stage.
"But beyond that—beyond the way this Administration has acted—it’s not the job of Congress to give any administration its blind trust. It’s why we have separation of powers. It’s why the Constitution entrusts war powers to Congress. Let me say that again It’s why the Constitution entrusts war powers to Congress. We haven’t had a declared war in this country since World War II. It’s not the way it should happen.
"So it’s a relief that both the administration and the Iranians have—for the moment—opted to de-escalate. But we’d be foolish to think this crisis is over. It could flame up again in the blink of an eye, and I worry that another misstep on either side could be what plunges our country into another ill-advised war in the Middle East.
"I’ll say it very plainly: the American people do not want war with Iran. With the measure before us today, we are denying the President the authority to wage such a war.
"This would direct the President to terminate the use of armed force against Iran without congressional authorization unless it’s necessary to respond to an imminent armed attack against the United States. The President always has the power to defend America, no one denies that. This resolution explicitly preserves this right. But that’s a limited exception. The President shouldn’t abuse it.
"Now, we’ve heard the argument that the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force—the Iraq War authorization—would justify military action against Iran. That’s just wrong. It’s not what Congress intended when it passed that resolution. I was here. I remember it. It should be repealed, not used to launch more military action. If the President wants to use military force against Iran, he has to come to Congress. Any president has to come to Congress. We’re not making rules only for this president. We’re making rules for the president, any president, vis-a-vis Congress’s constitutional powers.
"The president has to make the case first—not after he launches an ill-advised attack, then after the fact comes up with a reason why it was necessary and why it was legal. That’s not the way our system works.
"Today, I’ve heard the myth floating around that this resolution is non-binding… that it’s just symbolic. So let me quote from the War Powers Act to prove that untrue. The War Powers Law says, and I quote, “at any time that United States Armed Forces are engaged in hostilities outside the territory of the United States, its possessions and territories without a declaration of war or specific statutory authorization, such forces shall be removed by the President if the Congress so directs by concurrent resolution.” Again, by concurrent resolution. That’s what the War Powers Act states that we need to do. That’s what we are doing today.
"This is the House of Representative exercising its Article One authority. We don’t get authority–No, I will not yield. I’m making my opening statement. Perhaps later if there’s time. We don’t get authority over war powers if the President says so. We get authority over war powers, period. That’s our authority. So let’s put that fiction to rest.
"And one final point, Madam Speaker, about the tone of this debate. Yesterday, a member of this body went on television and said that Democrats 'are in love with terrorists…. They mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families.' Another member labeled a group of colleagues 'Ayatollah sympathizers.'
"At a time when we’re talking about policy that will have direct bearing on American men and women—servicemembers and diplomats—in harm’s way, comments like that reflect very poorly on this body, and I remind the House that all members, of both parties, regardless of party, love this country. These words have no place in this debate.
"On the Foreign Affairs Committee, we take pride in debating issues—even the toughest issues—on the merits and on the facts. I salute my friend the ranking member, Mr. McCaul, for working so closely with me to make sure we do so. That’s one of the keys of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I strongly encourage all members on both sides to bear that in mind during this debate. We all take the same oath. We can argue about this resolution without questioning one another’s motives… or one another’s patriotism."
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