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House To Vote On Limiting Trump's War Powers


Insulting, demeaning - this is how Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah described the briefing lawmakers got yesterday from the White House about the deadly strike on Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.


MIKE LEE: Probably the worst briefing I've seen - at least on a military issue - in the nine years I've served in the United States Senate.

GREENE: Senator Lee said the White House briefers discouraged lawmakers from asking hard questions or from expressing any dissent about the justification for this strike that killed one of Iran's most senior leaders. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the House is going to vote today on a new resolution to limit the president's power to deploy military force.

Let's talk all this through with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, who's here. Hi, Mara.


GREENE: Let's start with this resolution the House is going to be voting on. Could it have some sort of real meaningful effect and actually restrain the president in some way?

LIASSON: Probably not. It will pass the House. But in order for it to pass the Senate, you'd need four Republicans to join with Democrats. And there aren't - we haven't seen four Republicans come forward. It's a resolution. It has no force of law. The president doesn't have to sign it. And it might not have a practical effect because yesterday, in President Trump's remarks, he sounded like he was willing to accept this off-ramp that Iran seems to be offering. He's not eager to escalate, at least for now.

GREENE: Well, in terms of what the president has already done - I mean, ordering this military strike that killed Soleimani; the White House goes and briefs lawmakers yesterday - it sounds like lawmakers were - really had serious complaints, including some Republicans.

LIASSON: Yes, including some Republicans. Senator Rand Paul said the briefing didn't go beyond generalities or stuff you'd read in the newspaper. Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah - you played a clip of him earlier - he was really furious. As you said, he said it was the worst briefing he's ever seen on a military issue in his time in the Senate. He said that when he went into the briefing, he was undecided about how he would vote on a War Powers Act resolution that would stop the president from increasing military action against Iran without the explicit approval of Congress. He came out of the briefing deciding to vote for it. Here's what he said.


LEE: It is not acceptable for officials within the executive branch of government - I don't care whether they're with the CIA, with the Department of Defense or otherwise - to come in and tell us that we can't debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran. It's un-American, it's unconstitutional, and it's wrong.

GREENE: Mara, how significant is this if we consider the political moment? I mean, Republicans have been largely behind President Trump, and Senator Lee has been a longtime supporter. Right?

LIASSON: Yes, he's been a longtime supporter. But foreign policy is the one area where you have seen Republicans in Congress push back against the president, whether it's Saudi Arabia, Russia and now Iran. There was support for the administration's actions. Here's Steve Scalise, member the leadership in the House.


STEVE SCALISE: The real question I would ask would be - is the world a safer place without Soleimani in it? And based on his own history as a terrorist but also the things he was plotting against Americans in the future, the clear answer is yes, the world is a safer place with Soleimani gone.

LIASSON: Yes, and that's a consensus view among Democrats and Republicans that Soleimani was a bad guy and had American blood on his hands. That's quite different than the issues that Senator Lee is raising - constitutional issues about the role of Congress when the administration decides to use force.

GREENE: Are you seeing a larger political strategy from this White House right now in dealing with Iran?

LIASSON: A political - well, it's hard to see the national security strategy, and that's what is confusing members of Congress. Politically, I think the president feels he's in a good spot. He's a hawkish isolationist. His base likes to see the U.S. take military action against bad guys but not put boots on the ground and withdraw from the Middle East. And the president is trying to do both those things at the same time. And that's probably, at least in the short term, a political win for him.

GREENE: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.