Rep. Ilhan Omar on House-approved war powers resolution

A woman stands at a podium to speak.
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar delivers opening remarks at the Medicare for All town hall at Sabathani Community Center in Minneapolis.
Caroline Yang for MPR News 2019

The U.S. House has voted mainly along party lines to approve a measure curbing President Trump's ability to take additional military action against Iran. The nonbinding resolution comes after the president authorized the killing of a top Iranian general last week, flaring tensions in the Middle East. A similar measure faces a tough road in the U.S. Senate.

MPR News host Cathy Wurzer spoke with Minnesota DFL U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a co-sponsor of the House resolution, for more.

This interview has been edited for clarity and concision.

Cathy Wurzer: As I mentioned, this is a non-binding resolution, largely symbolic. What are House Democrats trying to say with this?

Ilhan Omar: This is our opportunity to exercise our constitutional duty. When the framers were really thinking about war powers, they wanted to make sure that there was a deliberation, there was going to be a conversation and consideration, and they gave those powers to Congress. And this is for us to reinsert our power into the conversation and remind the president of the United States that if he does intend to go to war, he must come and consult with Congress, and then we get to decide.

Wurzer: Does this means that Democrats don't trust President Trump when it comes to foreign policy?

Omar: Democrats don't trust President Trump when it comes to a lot of things, and precisely when it comes to dealing with our foreign policy. We've heard many contradicting statements from this administration on almost everything. And when it comes to the actions that they've taken in regards to Iran, we've heard Secretary of State Pompeo say that there was an imminent threat, and just recently he was quoted as saying they didn't know when, where and how Soleimani was planning to carry out this attack, and so the imminency of it really is unclear. We have received a briefing that was completely insufficient and inadequate. And what we've heard from intelligence, what we've heard from the intelligence community, what we've heard from Pompeo, what we've heard from Vice President Mike Pence and what we've heard from the president himself don't really line up for us, and so the little trust we could have in them making a coherent decision as they put our men and women in uniform in harm's way, it has eroded.

Wurzer: You mentioned the Constitution when we first began our conversation, and when the Constitution was written, obviously there were no drones or airstrikes. There are times now when leaders just have hours or minutes to make a decision. Do you think it reasonable to expect a president, any president to seek congressional approval for a strike like this?

Omar: So there are many other processes that they could engage in which they have not engaged in. We know that previous presidents have had consultations and informed the Gang of Eight, which this president hasn't. Even when we think about informing and engaging with the sovereign country in which we are now engaged in a proxy war with Iran in, that hasn't taken place.

Wurzer: But again, do you think it reasonable to expect any president to come to Congress for their thumbs up before launching a strike like this?

Omar: Certainly not. The president has, you know, his full Article Two authorities and powers intact. They are in charge of protecting our country, and the president himself is commander in chief. But you would expect that that responsibility be weighted heavily and carried out with caution.

Wurzer: We have about time for one more question. You voted for the resolution, and I know you criticized the president's decision this week to impose new sanctions on Iran. I believe you called them economic warfare. What do you see as a path forward then for the U.S. and Iran?

Omar: We had a really good path before this president took office. The Iran nuclear deal was a path forward to stabilizing Iran, and this president took us out of that. We have had other opportunities. One of the goals of our foreign policy is to engage in diplomacy, and there is a path to doing that that has now been eroded by the reckless behavior of this president. We had other tools in our toolbox, and it is time for us to not just utilize our muscle memory of threatening sanctions and figure out how to utilize the other tools we have in our toolbox.

Wurzer: Representative Omar, thank you so much for your time this morning.

Omar: Thank you so much for having me.

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