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S. 1039 (116th): Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act of 2019

Should Congress have a say in money spent to potentially attack or go to war with Iran, or should it solely be the president’s prerogative?


According to the Pentagon, Iran was responsible for an attack which set two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week. Some fear this could lead to war. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan deployed 1,000 more troops to the region in response, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to rule out military action against Iran in an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation.

What the bill does

The Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act would disallow the Trump Administration from spending money which could lead to war with Iran without congressional authorization.

It was introduced in the Senate on April 4 as bill number S. 1039, by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM). It was introduced in the House a few weeks later on April 25 as bill number H.R. 2354, by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA18).

What supporters say

Supporters argue the bill would slow or halt a military conflict or war in the Middle East pushed by overly militaristic members of a presidential administration, a la the Iraq War of last decade.

“This administration has made it perfectly clear that they intend to continue escalating tensions with Iran, breaking with our allies to try and provoke an outright war,” Sen. Udall said in a press release. “Saber-rattling foreign policy advisors like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are ripping from the same playbook that launched us into the failed invasion of Iraq, making questionable claims and using selective intelligence leaks, all while trying to bait Iran into conflict and push the president to launch what would be a catastrophic military engagement.”

“One of the most important lessons of Iraq is that all it takes for a tragic debacle of a war to start is inaction or silence from those who know better,” Sen. Udall continued. “That’s why we must act now to assert Congress’ authority, and block an unconstitutional war that lacks congressional authorization.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that Iran is a dangerous enemy, which should possibly be confronted with military action — regardless of whether Congress approves.

“The Iranian regime is the leading state sponsor of terror. It exports dangerous missiles, fuels conflicts across the Middle East, and supports terrorist proxies and militias such as Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban, and al Qaeda,” President Trump said. “Over the years, Iran and its proxies have bombed American embassies and military installations, murdered hundreds of American servicemembers, and kidnapped, imprisoned, and tortured American citizens. The Iranian regime has funded its long reign of chaos and terror by plundering the wealth of its own people.”

After administration members held a classified briefing for Congress about Iran, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ7) said, “What I heard in there makes it clear that this administration feels that they do not have to come back and talk to Congress in regards to any action they do in Iran.”

Odds of passage

The Senate bill has attracted 25 bipartisan cosponsors: 24 Democrats or Democratic-affiliated independents, plus Republican Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The House bill has attracted 59 cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in either the House Foreign Affairs or House Armed Services Commitees.

Although Democrats control the House, it’s unclear whether enough Senate Republicans in the GOP-controlled chamber would be willing to buck Trump on a move meant to limit presidential authority.

Last updated Jun 25, 2019. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Apr 30, 2019.

Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act of 2019

This bill prohibits funds from being used for kinetic military operations against Iran unless Congress authorizes such an action, with various exceptions such as in response to an imminent threat. ("Kinetic military operations" typically refers to active military actions, in contrast to latent operations or cyberwarfare.)