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Lawmakers Express Concern About Prospect Of A Military Conflict With Iran


As the U.S. sends more troops to the Middle East, lawmakers are concerned about the prospect of a military conflict with Iran and whether the Trump administration believes the White House can legally go to war. There's ambiguity created by the open-ended congressional authorization to use military force passed after 9/11. NPR's Tim Mak has more.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: The capital is on alert after attacks on shipping in the Gulf of Oman, which the Trump administration has blamed on the Iranian government. But another major question has been whether the Trump administration has the authority to use military force against Iran. In a broadly worded resolution passed in 2001, Congress granted the president authority to wage war against those who harbored organizations responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Lawmakers are concerned that the Trump administration drawing on links between al-Qaida and Iran could use that legal authority, known as an AUMF. Here's Democratic Senator Ron Wyden.


RON WYDEN: Led by John Bolton, there are people in this administration who have hardly ever found a cause that they didn't want to start a war over.

MAK: In a meeting last week, Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz said that the Trump administration believes it could act without Congress.


MATT GAETZ: The notion that the administration has never maintained that there are elements of the 2001 AUMF that would authorize their hostilities toward Iran is not consistent with my understanding of what they said to us.

MAK: Objection to the possible use of this authority has created bipartisan coalitions. Concerned Veterans for America, a group on the right, and VoteVets, a progressive organization, have teamed up on this issue, as has a bipartisan war powers caucus that formed this week. And today, lawmakers questioned Brian Hook, the State Department's special representative for Iran. Hook repeatedly refused to rule anything out.


BRIAN HOOK: We will do everything that we are required to do with respect to Congressional war powers.

MAK: In fact, Hook declined even to answer basic questions about the Constitution. Here he is being questioned by Representative Ted Lieu.


TED LIEU: Under the Constitution, the framers gave Congress the power to declare war, correct? Just a yes or no.

HOOK: This is - my understanding is that we're here to talk about Iran foreign policy, which I can do.

MAK: In both the House and the Senate, bipartisan efforts are now underway to make sure Congress' voice is heard on Iran. Tim Mak, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.