The Morning Dispatch: The House Says ‘No Thanks’ to War With Iran

Plus, more on Mike Lee, and Democrats get testy over the articles of impeachment.

Happy Friday! As our launch week draws to a close, it appears the news is taking a little breather: Things are seemingly slowing down a bit with Iran, and the Senate is still waiting around for Nancy Pelosi to send over articles of impeachment. Here’s hoping the lull keeps through the weekend so your Morning Dispatchers get a spare minute to see their families (or watch the Packers l̶o̶s̶e̶ ̶t̶o̶ beat the Seahawks).

Quick Hits: What You Need To Know

  • The commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Aerospace Force said that Tuesday’s missile strikes on U.S. forces in Iraq were intended to destroy military infrastructure, not to kill. There were no casualties.

  • The passenger aircraft that crashed in Iran Tuesday night, killing all 176 passengers, was shot down by Iranian anti-aircraft fire, American officials said. Iran denies shooting down the plane, while President Trump said it could have been “a mistake” on Iran’s part.

  • Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signed on to a plan introduced by Sen. Josh Hawley that would change Senate rules and allow lawmakers to dismiss impeachment articles before the House sends them over.

  • The first New Hampshire poll of 2020 shows a dead heat between the four top-tier candidates: 20 percent for Pete Buttigieg, 19 percent for Joe Biden, 18 percent for Bernie Sanders, 15 percent for Elizabeth Warren.

  • The Department of Justice is closing an inquiry into Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation that began two years ago after it found “nothing of consequence.” 

  • A general denied recently pardoned Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn’s request to have his Special Forces tab reinstated. Golsteyn was awaiting trial for murder when President Trump pardoned him in November.


The House Says ‘No Thanks’ to War With Iran

After a very uneasy week in the Middle East, things have seemingly settled down. Following the killing of Qassem Suleimani and subsequent Iranian missile attack on U.S. bases in Iraq, both sides are signaling their desire to let the matter rest, at least for the time being.

But while the anxiety that we might be on the precipice of war may be receding, congressional Democrats aren’t taking any chances. The House of Representatives on Thursday voted to approve a war powers resolution, introduced by freshman Rep. Elissa Slotkin, disapproving of Trump’s strike last week on Suleimani and urging him not to engage in further hostilities. Senate Democrats hope to force a vote on a similar measure soon.

It’s worth taking a minute to stop and explain what exactly these resolutions are and mean. To begin with, they’re non-binding: On their own, they don’t compel the president to change his behavior or strategy a bit.

But that doesn’t mean such resolutions are toothless. They take their political force from the War Powers Act of 1973, which dictates that a president cannot commit U.S. forces to a military conflict for more than 60 days without going to Congress to obtain a declaration of war or—more frequently these days—an authorization for the use of military force. Congress wouldn’t vote on that, of course, unless and until Trump actually wanted to commit forces into Iran, which he has so far not opted to do. (The strike on Suleimani, you’ll recall, took place in Iraq, against a military commander who has opposed us in Iraq. On that basis, the Trump administration has argued that that action did not call for a new authorization, as the conflict in Iraq is still authorized under the AUMF passed by Congress in 2002.)

Thursday’s resolution thus served a clear purpose: It telegraphed to the White House that Congress, as things stand now, has no inclination to authorize further hostilities with Iran. That doesn’t necessarily make a difference now, but if things get worse it may matter very much indeed.

One Word on Mike Lee

As we noted Thursday, Sen. Mike Lee got a pile of media attention Wednesday when he pledged to support Senate Democrats’ version of the war powers resolution after coming out of a White House briefing on Iran. Speaking to the press after the meeting, Lee torched it as a patronizing and unilluminating affair in which administration officials were more interested in wheedling lawmakers not to make a public fuss than in actually sharing critical information to justify the attack on Suleimani. 

“I found offensive their refusal to acknowledge any set of circumstances in which they would need to come back to Congress for authorization,” Lee told The Dispatch on Thursday. “Somebody asked, ‘What if you organized a strike against the Supreme Leader? That would involve a significant military action; would you agree that that would require affirmative authorization for the use of military force?’ They refused to answer that one.” 

What this doesn’t mean is that Mike Lee is about to rejoin the ranks of the Never Trumpers. In interviews both with us and others Thursday, he took pains to point out that his opposition was to the president’s staff in a specific briefing, not the president himself: “I support the president, and I applaud what he’s done. More than any other president in my lifetime, this president has respected and restrained his use of commander-in-chief power afforded to him under Article II of the Constitution.”

Lee isn’t backing off of his resolve to vote with Senate Democrats on their war powers motion—once they agreed to strip all specifically anti-Trump language out of the resolution. The sponsor of that measure in the senate, Tim Kaine, did agree. The result is that, unlike the House bill, it will be impossible to denounce the updated Senate version as a piece of partisan editorializing: just a simple resolution that the president—any president!—ought not carry out unauthorized military strikes in Iran. Don’t be surprised if you see a few more Republicans jump ship over the weekend. 

Pelosi’s Impeachment Gamble

In “The Gambler,” Kenny Rogers reminded listeners that “you've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.”

We wrote over the holidays that we had underestimated Nancy Pelosi’s gambit in withholding of the impeachment articles—she clearly struck a nerve with President Trump, and her delay provided space for more moderate Republican senators like Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins to voice their displeasure with Mitch McConnell’s seemingly predetermined trial parameters.

But that was December 27, eons ago in the age of Trump. Since then, Murkowski and Collins have both come home, agreeing to the framework McConnell laid out. Senate Democrats have begun to get testy.

Even one of her own House chairmen, Adam Smith—the congressman from Washington who steers the House Armed Services Committee, not the father of capitalism—went on CNN and admitted it was time to throw in the towel. “I understand what the speaker was trying to do,” Smith said. “But at the end of the day, just like we control it in the House, Mitch McConnell controls it in the Senate. I think it was perfectly advisable for the speaker to try to leverage that to get a better deal. At this point, it doesn't look like that's going to happen.”

In other words:

Pelosi has publicly stuck to her guns, telling reporters in a press conference on Thursday McConnell isn’t getting his hands on the articles of impeachment just yet. “I’ll send them over when I’m ready,” she said.

 But cracks in the facade are beginning to show. “That will probably be soon,” she continued. “I’m not holding them indefinitely.”

(Smith, for his part, reversed himself in a tweet a short time after challenging Pelosi. “I misspoke this morning,” Smith wrote. “I do believe we should do everything we can to force the Senate to have a fair trial. If the Speaker believes that holding on to the articles for a longer time will help force a fair trial in the Senate, then I wholeheartedly support that decision.”)

Pelosi’s retention of the articles has not proved to be as detrimental to her cause as some thought it might. But with McConnell locking down his conference as he so often does, and Trump resisting the temptation to insist publicly on the Senate trial, Pelosi’s time seems to be up. 

Worth Your Time

  • We’ll admit to being suckers for a good magazine. As such, this bleak Baffler essay from James Pogue caused us a certain amount of anguish. It’s a compelling description of how the Internet’s hollowing out of professional journalism, combined with Hollywood’s insatiable thirst for new content for streaming services, have created a perverse new incentive structure for highbrow longform narrative writing: The real money isn’t in writing a good story, but in optioning the movie rights to that story afterwards.

  • The more things change, the more they stay the same. Take a gander at this New York Times report from 2012: “The Iranian military was so apprehensive about the threat of an Israeli airstrike on its nuclear installations in 2007 and 2008 that it mistakenly fired on civilian airliners and, in one instance, on one of its own military aircraft, according to classified American intelligence reports.” 

  • New York Times columnist David Brooks offers a brutal assessment of the Trump-obsessed #Resistance. “Donald Trump is impulse-driven, ignorant, narcissistic and intellectually dishonest. So you’d think that those of us in the anti-Trump camp would go out of our way to show we’re not like him — that we are judicious, informed, mature and reasonable. But the events of the past week have shown that the anti-Trump echo chamber is becoming a mirror image of Trump himself—overwrought, uncalibrated and incapable of having an intelligent conversation about any complex policy problem.”

  • We all know that guy—heck, some of us even are that guy. In The Atlantic, Ashley Fetters attempts to answer the age-old question: Why does every school have a boy who wears shorts all winter?

  • Ken Fuson, a longtime feature writer for the Des Moines Register, filed a memorable obituary that ran this week. His own. “No, he didn't win a Pulitzer Prize, but he's dead now, so get off his back.”

Presented Without Comment

Something Fun

Toeing the Company Line

  • In yesterday’s French Press, David French offered a heartening assessment of the week’s Iran news: the Trump administration, it seems, struck a successful blow against Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism without pushing us closer to outright war. 

  • David also joined AEI’s Banter podcast to discuss The Dispatch, the future of conservatism, the Democratic presidential primary, and his own near presidential run back in 2016. Give it a listen!

  • David isn’t just writing newsletters. On the home page today, he takes a deep deep dive on how Christians enjoy more liberty than ever before, but feel under attack because they have lost power. And our Sarah Isgur explores all the ways the Supreme Court could affect the 2020 election.

  • Tune in or set your DVRs this weekend as both Jonah and David appear on Sunday talk show roundtables to discuss this week in the news. Jonah will be on Fox News Sunday and David on Meet the Press.

Let Us Know

Earlier in the week, we asked you what features you’d like to see in our brand spankin’ new website, jokingly including more ads, autoplay videos, and dog content. 

Reader Yeshaya Clair actually requested more ads, letting us know of a time clickbait proved to be incredibly useful.

There's an ad-supported sports site I visit that would constantly tempt me with the knowledge of "which celebrity is the tallest." For years I was strong and didn't click, but one day my strength wavered and I clicked the picture of Taylor Swift to see if she was, in fact, the tallest. After 25 arduous clicks I finally arrived at the knowledge of which celebrity was in fact the tallest: not Taylor Swift. To this day I remember that Taylor Swift is not the tallest, and I hope this knowledge stays with you as well. So while accurate reporting and insightful commentary are all well and good, let's not discard the unique knowledge that can be only obtained by internet ads.

Taylor Swift: Not the tallest.

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph of anti-war protesters at a Moveon.Org rally at the U.S. Capitol on January 9, 2020 in Washington, D.C., by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for MoveOn.org.