Have efforts by the Congressional Democrats to impeach President Trump given him space to launch the type of military attack we saw last week against Iran? While the U.S. House Democratic caucus asserts that it can walk and chew gum at the same time , apparent failures to move legislation sponsored by Democrats to the House floor may have provided the President with the cover he needed to carry out the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani.
Talk of impeachment, which has been occurring since Mr. Trump took office in January 2017, sucked up a lot of media oxygen within the last few months with congressional hearings coming to a head last December with the impeachment of Mr. Trump. What has received far less coverage by the media and the public at large are attempts by Democrats to head off escalation of tensions between the United States and the Republic of Iran via legislation.
On 25 April 2019, U.S. Representative Anna Eshoo, Democrat of California, introduced H.R. 2354, the Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act of 2019. The bill notes the Republic of Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and that Iran’s missile tests could lead to increased tensions with Israel and Saudi Arabia as well as the United Nations. The bill also found that the Republic of Iran threatens maritime activity and puts U.S. naval and commercial assets at risk.
Concerned about President Trump’s tweets promising severe action against the Republic of Iran for its military actions and threats in the Middle East region, the bill reminds the President and the American public that the power to declare power lies solely in the Congress. Pursuant to the bill, no funds for kinetic (conventional) military action would be authorized without an authorization from the Congress to take action against the Republic of Iran.
Mrs. Eshoo’s bill is a companion bill to S.1039 introduced by Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of Utah. His bill was introduced on 4 April 2019 and contains the same language as H.R. 2354.
Both bills currently sit in each chambers respective foreign affairs committees.
Trump maximizes his political capital in a legislative vacuum ….
President Trump’s approval ratings have been pretty much consistent since May 2018, hovering around 42% for the past 19 months. He campaigned on an “America First” platform which includes reasserting American dominance in world political and economic affairs. His actions against Iran have not eroded his political capital with his base and arguably with his European allies as the European Union struggles with what to make of this latest move.
Does the American electorate see actions against Iran building up goodwill between themselves and the president? Back in June 2019, a poll by Politico found that 36% of Americans supported military action in Iran after the Iranians shot down a US drone. When views toward action in Iran are viewed via partisan eyes, 59% of Republicans favored action against Iran while only 23% of Democrats and 28% of independents supported a strike against Iran. It should be noted that Mr. Trump, at the last minute, decided against a military strike against Iran believing the cost in lives on both sides was not worth the loss of the drone.
An analysis in Bloomberg points out that the hit seven months later on Soleimani may have given Trump leverage by making the Administration appear unpredictable. Political actors in Europe and the Middle East may have less of an idea as to Mr. Trump’s responses to certain events or his endgame. For example, Iran has hit tankers with no American response but out of the blue a hit on an Iranian general in alleged retaliation for attacks on American drones and the death of an American contractor. Iran may have thought it had the US figured out but the willingness to surgically remove an important member of Iran’s military hierarchy may give Iran pause.
But given public attitudes toward military involvement in and with Iran, Democrats in Congress have let fester a legislative void, failing to promote aggressively legislation that would have restricted Mr. Trump’s actions to continued use of soft force while eroding his influence with the American electorate.
The takeaway on political capital …
Tough to tell whether it was luck or political skill, but Mr. Trump, so far, has been able to take a risky military action without apparent loss of political capital. Over the next few months we will be able to get a better idea as to whether his resources and power built on his actions, relationships, and influence will erode as a result of the action. Something else we should be mindful of is the ability of an executive to operate in what amounts to a political “no-fly zone” where the legislature hasn’t taken any initiative to head off potentially disastrous events by enacting law leaving an executive to operate freely.