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Culpeper Star Exponent: Spanberger: Congress must exercise its war powers

Washington, January 10, 2020
CULPEPER STAR EXPONENT, CLINT SCHEMMER

The authority and responsibility to make war rests with Congress, Rep. Abigail Spanberger said Thursday as the U.S.-Iran crisis prompted the House to reaffirm its war powers.

Spanberger, a Democrat representing Central Virginia’s 7th District, voted with a majority of her colleagues to assert that President Donald Trump must seek congressional approval before more military action against Iran.

The former CIA case officer, who worked on Iranian and counterterrorism issues, supported the war powers resolution that passed the House 224-194, with three Republicans voting in support. Eight Democrats opposed the measure.

She affirmed the United States’ inherent right to act in self-defense, and that war-making decisions are “a solemn duty” resting with members of Congress—“the people ... elected to represent both those who go off to war and their families—those who bear the burden, risks, and loss of the choices we make.”

As America faces military engagements with Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism, Spanberber said affirming lawmakers’ constitutional responsibility “is important, but it is not nearly enough.”

The nation has been at war in the Middle East for nearly two decades, she noted.

“We have seen men and women fighting and dying under authorities voted on half a generation ago,” Spanberger said in a statement late Thursday. “These authorities have been abused and contorted by successive administrations—Republican and Democratic alike.”

Some legislators have highlighted misdeeds of the opposing party’s president, but kept silent when their party’s chief executive overstepped Congress and stretched Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to engage in hostilities a continent away from the original target, half a generation later, she said.

Spanberger’s called Thursday’s vote “merely a first step.”

“At a time when hyper-partisanship is plaguing our country and our Congress, the most solemn of our responsibilities—to deliberate on and authorize war—is one we should fight to keep from the clutches of partisan hackery,” she said. “We should fiercely debate, fight, and disagree, but we should do so based on what is in the best interest of our nation, our national security, and the men and women fighting to keep us safe.”

Spanberger thanked the nation’s intelligence services, diplomatic corps, service members, military leaders and President Trump for striving for de-escalation after a week of heightened tensions.

In recent days, she said she has conversed with lawmakers across the political spectrum—from the most conservative to the most liberal—about how to “keep Americans safe, end endless wars, and protect the balance of Constitutional powers.”

If Congress takes no more action after Thursday’s vote, it will have failed to reassert its authority under Article I of the Constitution, Spanberger warned.

In July 2019, Spanberger cosponsored and helped pass a bipartisan amendment to prohibit the unauthorized use of military force against Iran.

She has advocated for a fresh, smart strategy toward future U.S. engagement with Iran, while ensuring the United States protects its key interests and supports close allies in the region.

In July 2019, Spanberger co-led an effort calling on the administration to articulate a clear strategy in dealing with Iran’s destabilizing behavior. She also voted in favor of Rep. Barbara Lee’s bipartisan amendment to repeal the 2002 AUMF.

In July 2019, the House passed a joint resolution Spanberger led to block the sale of some offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia.

Earlier, she joined a bipartisan majority in the House to pass a resolution to remove U.S. forces from the hostilities in Yemen, which Congress didn’t authorize.

In recent weeks, seesawing military escalations between Iran and the United States have reignited a long-suppressed debate over who has the power to declare war.

The House war-powers resolution passed by the Democratic-controlled House on Thursday isn’t binding on the president and would not require his signature.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted it “has real teeth” because and will “protect American lives and values” by limiting Trump’s military actions.

“The administration must de-escalate and must prevent further violence,’’ she said.

In the GOP-run Senate, a similar war-powers proposal by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., faces an uphill fight. Kaine’s efforts received a boost Thursday as Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana, an ex-Marine, said he might support the war powers measure.

“We are members of a separate and distinct branch of government. It is our duty not to take anyone’s word for things as we are dealing with matters of life and death,” Young said, adding that he wished Trump administration officials had provided more intelligence during a briefing Wednesday on the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Two other Republican senators said Wednesday they would back Kaine’s plan.

Pelosi, in announcing Thursday’s House vote, called Soleimani’s assassination “provocative and disproportionate.”

The White House called the House resolution “ridiculous” and “completely misguided.”

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