How Barbara Lee’s anti-war push succeeded on Iran

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“More times than not, history has proven her right,” he added.

It was Lee who, in 2001, stood alone in a bruised and angry America to oppose post-Sept. 11 warfare. A generation later, the California Democrat is helping to lead a party-wide crackdown on the expansion of Trump’s presidential war powers.

The 22-year House veteran is renowned across the Capitol for her resolute approach to holding to account all occupants of the White House:Clinton’s bombing in Yugoslavia, Bush’s surge in Iraq, Obama’s airstrikes in Syria and, most recently, Trump’s drone targeting of an Iranian leader.

And for that dogged persistence — even in the face of death threats that once required her to have a 24-hour security detail — Lee was celebrated by her caucus this week.

She earned a round of applause at a leadership meeting, praise from Speaker Nancy Pelosi at her press conference and personal accolades on the floor. It all happily coincided with her recent wedding to aLos Angeles-based pastor on New Year’s Eve, which Democrats toasted with a reception off the House floor just moments after approving the war powers resolution.

Earlier in the week, it wasn’t clear the vote would happen at all. An Iranian retaliatory strike against U.S. bases in Iraq made some Democrats reluctant to move forward with the resolution. But progressives kept the pressure on, arguing to Pelosi and others in the caucus that it was even more important to send Trump a message as the situation appeared to spiral.

The threat eventually de-escalated, and talks moved back to Trump’s powers to strike Iran in the first place — which he claimed under a 2002 war authorization that Lee has clawed at for years. Lee fielded questions throughout the week from fellow Democrats, particularly freshmen, on the issue.

In the end, only eight moderate Democrats voted against the resolution.

Beyond Thursday’s Iran vote, top Democrats have also set in motion two other key measures to control the executive branch’s war-making authorities, nearly limitless in the 19-year global war on terror. Lee is taking the lead on the push to repeal the2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq though that may prove a more difficult step.

The new push by Democrats, spurred by Trump’s sudden killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani without congressional consultation, marks the strongest challenge to a White House’s war authorities since 2006 when the House debated cutting off funding for the Iraq War.

The repeal of the 2002 AUMF — which has justified Pentagon strikes in countries like Yemen, Somalia and now Iran — could now see its first-ever standalone floor vote.

And unlike the divisive, often ugly, debate back then, Lee now stands in lockstep with the vast majority of the Democratic caucus, including veterans of that war serving in Trump-won districts.

“Regardless of where you’re coming from, what state, who your constituency is, I think what you’re seeing is unity in our caucus now,” Lee told reporters this week on Democrats’ largely united front against Trump’s recent aggression with Iran.

In 2001, Lee — the daughter of an Army officer — was the sole member of Congress to oppose a war authorization for President George W. Bush. Since then, she has repeatedly sought to roll back both that decree and the Iraq-specific measure in 2002.

Lee has kept the debate alive by regularly forcing votes when she can — in committee, on the floor. And gradually, support has ticked up, with lawmakers of both parties growing weary of America’s longest war.

“She definitely leads by her presence, but she’s not a person who slams her fist on the desk. When she speaks, she’s definitely listened to,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who serves alongside Lee in the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

“It’s like a Jedi trick or something,” Gallego said.

The big step toward an AUMF repealcomes after another major victory for anti-war advocates earlier in Trump’s presidency, when both chambers of Congress approved a war powers resolution for the first time in history. Trump ultimately vetoed the measure, which would have ended U.S. intervention in the civil war in Yemen as a rebuke to Saudi Arabia over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Lee has climbed the ranks of the Democratic caucus, including stints as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus. She made a failed bid for Democratic Caucus chairman last year, but was hand-picked by Pelosi to join her leadership team in a new role.

Part of that success, colleagues say, is Lee’s willingness to fight without aggravating or isolating her colleagues — earning her reverence in the House among Democrats and some Republicans.

At one point on Thursday, Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) ran into Lee just outside the room where Democrats held a belated wedding reception for her and her new husband, complete with a three-tier cake.

Mullin approached Lee and said, “Congrats on your engagement!” She told him they had already wed, and he wrapped his arms around her in a big hug, though Mullin still fiercely opposes her anti-war stance.

“They know where she’s coming from, they know what her beliefs are, and they know that she’ll push as hard as she can,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), who first met Lee while serving in the California state legislature.

“But at the same time they understand that she’s a realist and she understands that you can’t just go from A to Z. Sometimes you have to take these baby steps,” she added.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said she sought out a meeting with Lee in California after she won her election but before she came to Congress.

“I asked her, how did you have the fortitude to do what you did in Afghanistan, and so many other issues?” Ocasio-Cortez said. “One of the things she said is that, you really have to pick your corner and to stand on it, and eventually everyone tends to come around to you.”

John Bresnahan contributed to this story.

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