“There was no raw evidence presented that this was an imminent threat,” Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told reporters after the briefing.
“I didn’t hear anything in the briefing that there was a lawful basis for the attack and that the threat was imminent,” added Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who supports defunding any military action against Iran unless Congress first approves it. “The absence of approval from Congress and consultation with Congress resulted in, I think, a very reckless decision that undermines American national security interests and the security of our country.”
Democrats said the Trump administration’s justification — or lack thereof — bolstered their case for an aggressive House response to put a check on Trump’s war-making powers. And many were outspoken in their calls for urgent action by the House to repudiate Trump and pressure him for a more clear strategy as soon as this week.
Pelosi announced within hours of the briefing that the House would vote to rein in Trump’s war powers, a measure of the widespread dissatisfaction within the caucus about the presentation. It also shows a huge shift in the caucus’ mood from 24 hours earlier, when Democrats halted plans to vote after reports of a missile strike against U.S. forces that put all of Washington on edge.
The 5-page resolution, led by Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), would halt U.S. military actions against Iran without specific congressional approval. In a nod to the caucus’s moderates, it does not directly criticize Trump or his top officials.
It’s unclear how many House Republicans will agree to the resolution, with GOP lawmakers under pressure to show their loyalty to Trump. But at least two Senate Republicans, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), have said they plan to support a similar measure in the Senate.
Lee, a prominent anti-interventionist, ranted to reporters after the Senate’s separate meeting on Iran that it was “probably the worst briefing I’ve seen,” saying he was unsatisfied with the “legal, factual and moral justification” for the attack.
Democrats were able to move forward on the resolution — which ran into some initial hurdles within the caucus — after they largely agreed that White House attempt to justify the attack fell flat. Wednesday’s briefing, lawmakers said, exposed what they called a lack of strategy and even a lack of unity within the Trump administration over whether Soleimani’s killing was justified by military necessity.
“The ecretary of Defense and the ecretary of State are sitting right next to each other, and they both lay out the three points of their Iran policy, and they don’t even all line up,” Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) said, visibly fuming as he exited the briefing. “So this administration has no strategy to deal with Iran.”
“I didn’t hear any justification” for Soleimani’s killing Moulton added.
The reaction from lawmakers like Moulton — who served four tours in Iraq before he was elected — is a sign that the vast Democratic Caucus is unified against Trump as it pushes to limit Trump’s war powers against Iran.
And with the caucus increasingly agitated at the administration’s response, House Democrats are weighing several options to limit Trump’s military authority beyond the resolution curbing the president’s military powers.
Pelosi also confirmed Wednesday that the House “may soon consider” two bills being pushed by the CPC from Reps. Ro Khanna and Barbara Lee, both of California.
Khanna’s measure would block funding for offensive military operations against Iran without congressional approval. Lee’s resolution would repeal a 2002 war authorization passed ahead of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
“The Administration must work with the Congress to advance an immediate, effective de-escalatory strategy that prevents further violence. America and the world cannot afford war,” Pelosi said in her statement.
Inside the briefing room, there was audible grumbling by some Democrats as administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, delivered their presentations and took questions.
One of those questions came from House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), as he demanded to know the legal rationale for the strike.
“Over and over and over, the question was asked, and nothing more was given to us about this,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), another progressive leader, said about the claims of an imminent threat.
Trump also delivered an address Wednesday to show his attempt to de-escalate the situation, telling the nation that Iran is likely “standing down” after Tuesday’s missile strikes. He also announced new sanctions on Iran instead of further military action.
“The basic theme of it was the administration essentially saying, ‘Trust us,'” said House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). “I’m not sure who I trust or what I trust when it comes to these issues because we’ve been told so many different things that just bother me.”
Heather Caygle contributed to this story.