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Cole: “This sends the wrong message to Iran”

January 30, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) released the following statement after the U.S. House of Representatives voted on two resolutions related to war powers. The first resolution would repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) in the Middle East without providing a replacement to ensure the U.S. military can continue to manage changing interests in the region. The second resolution would prohibit any future U.S. military operations against Iran – even to defend against Iranian provocation and imminent threats to U.S. or allied personnel and service members. Cole opposed both measures today.

“I have long been supportive of having a debate about how Congress can reclaim its constitutional power to authorize and declare war. To be clear though, President Donald Trump has not waged war with Iran – nor does he want to do so,” said Cole. “Despite claims to the contrary, his record to date demonstrates incredible restraint and caution in dealing with the ever-aggressive Iranian regime. Unfortunately, the misguided measures pushed through the House by Democrats are clearly more about striking at the president than protecting American interests. This attempt to prevent the president from exercising his constitutional responsibility to defend the United States is indeed ill-timed and ultimately sends the wrong message to the Iranian regime about American resolve.”

During House Rules Committee consideration of the measures on Monday, Cole as Ranking Member of the panel made extensive remarks explaining his opposition to the resolutions. Excerpts of his remarks as delivered are below and full video above.

Our second measure is the Senate amendment to H.R. 550. However, the committee will be inserting the text of two different measures, the text of H.R. 5543, the No War Against Iran Act, and the text of H.R. 2456, To Repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002. This follows on House passage of a similar resolution that would restrict the president from using armed force against Iran that the House passed just two weeks ago.

As the committee is aware, I’ve long been supportive of Congress exercising its authority with respect to war powers. I am a firm believer that Congress has a role in committing America’s military to battle. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 states clearly that the president cannot commit the United States to an armed conflict without the consent of the United States Congress. This is a debate we should have as a Congress.

But once again, the majority continues to not take the need for an actual debate seriously. Once again, the majority is pushing ahead on measures of the gravest importance without going through regular order. In contrast to passage of the original AUMF in 2002, neither of these measures has received a hearing or markup in the Foreign Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over these matters. In contrast to passage of the original AUMF, it seems likely no amendments will be made in order. And in contrast to passage of the original AUMF, even a motion to recommit, the most basic right offered to the minority, is being taken away. And all following consideration of a resolution two weeks ago, regarding Iran, which also trampled upon the rights of the minority.

Congress should have the opportunity to examine the justifications for the use of military force through a series of hearings and a markup to decide whether these two measures are appropriate. But instead, the majority is pushing them straight to the floor without following regular order.

On the No War With Iran Act, I note that I actually supported this measure when it was offered as an amendment to the NDAA. I believed then that there was time for Congress to exercise its war powers, and I believed that Congress should go through an appropriate hearing process. But the majority has not done so. And since the NDAA passed the House in July of last year, the reality on the ground in the Middle East has changed significantly. Iran has directly attacked a U.S. base in Iraq earlier this month. And just yesterday, rockets struck the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, although we do not yet know who launched those rockets. Iran continues to back militias and terror groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. And it continues to threaten global trade through the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.

If this resolution were to become law at this time, it would completely hamstring the ability of the United States to respond to future acts of aggression by Iran. If Iran were to attack American civilians, regional allies like Jordan and Israel or attack international shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, the U.S. military would be legally prevented from firing a single shot until after the successful completion of a bicameral legislative process to enact a law authorizing the use of force.

We could and should continue to hold hearings and evaluate U.S. policy with respect to Iran and with respect to the entire Middle East. But without hearings and regular order, the No War With Iran Act is premature – and potentially dangerous.

I feel even more strongly about the second measure, which repeals the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002. Much like the measure concerning Iran, no hearings and no markups on this measure have been held, and this resolution is being pushed straight to the floor without following regular order.

This is simply unacceptable. Members on both sides of the aisle – myself included – agree that an updated authorization for the use of military force that better describes current threats is appropriate. But until we can reach agreement on what a new AUMF should look like, it is inappropriate to repeal the existing one.

To be clear: I personally believe that we should rethink the 2002 AUMF, but we should not repeal it without a replacement. This measure fails to do that. Instead, it simply repeals the 2002 AUMF without providing any updated authorities. If this legislation were to pass, it would call into legal question many counterterrorism operations in Iraq and the broader Middle East, which is a reckless approach that will hamstring our military and prevent us from confronting ongoing deadly threats against our country.

We need to follow regular order. We need to hold hearings on what a new AUMF should look like. And we need to reach a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on a new AUMF. I believe we can get there, but simply moving a repeal measure straight to the floor without any hearings or any discussion of what a new authorization should constitute is not it.