East Bay Congresswoman pushes back against military action in Iran

East Bay Congresswoman Barbara Lee says Congress needs to reassert its constitutional power as the branch of government authorized to determine whether the nation should go to war. Rep. Lee plans to present a bill limiting presidential war powers, amidst escalating tensions between the Trump administration and Iran over the weekend. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan are expected to hold closed-door briefings Tuesday with the House and Senate to lay out the reasons for the recent mobilization of U.S. military forces into the Persian Gulf. 

Over the weekend, President Trump ramped up rhetoric and says he's exerting a "maximum pressure" campaign. The administration has cited unnamed threats from Iran and its allies as reason for the new military action.

On Monday, before a campaign rally, President Trump said he's willing to negotiate but called Iran "hostile" and said he would meet any aggression by Iran with "great force." 

President Trump refuted reports that his administration had reached out to Iran, saying in a tweet, "Iran will call us if and when they are ever ready. In the meantime, their economy continues to collapse - very sad for the Iranian people!"

Iranian officials said Monday they have quadrupled production of uranium, but only to the lower enrichment limit of 3.67% suitable for power plants, far below the level needed for nuclear weapons. That limit is in compliance with the limit set by the 2015 Obama-era nuclear deal with world powers. Iran has set a July 7th deadline for Europe to come up with new terms for the deal after President Trump pulled the United States out and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. 

Over the weekend, President Trump threatened the end of Iran if it picks a fight. An Iranian official fired back in a tweet saying "Try respect--it works" and "Never threaten an Iranian."

The question is how far can the Commander-in-Chief go in ordering military action.

"The Authorization to Use Military Force was passed in 2001 in response to 9/11," says Terri Bimes, a researcher with the UC Berkeley Political Science department.

Bimes says that authorization allowed the White House to go after those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, but it has remained an open door ever since, used recently by President Trump to justify military force in Syria and now, potentially future action against Iran.

"The Constitution clearly gives Congress the power to declare war, but what's happened is over time, the President has usurped that power and Congress has been totally deferential to the President," said Bimes.

"Congress has been missing in action," said Rep. Barbara Lee, who intends to call on Congress Tuesday to pass her bill, H.R. 1274, that would repeal the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force. Lee was the only vote against the 2001 Authorization and has been fighting to repeal it ever since it passed.

"I believe that if in fact this administration intends to go to war with Iran, they need to come to Congress, they need to debate the pros and cons, costs and consequences and then Congress should either authorize or not authorize the use of force against Iran," said Rep. Lee.