Fact Check

Did Biden Say in 2020 that Trump Didn't Have Authority for War with Iran Without Congress' Approval?

A post from the then-Democratic presidential hopeful's Twitter account was reshared in January 2024 amid tensions with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

Published Jan 12, 2024

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a visit to Allentown Fire Training Academy in Allentown, Pennsylvania on Jan. 12, 2024. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images) (MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a visit to Allentown Fire Training Academy in Allentown, Pennsylvania on Jan. 12, 2024. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Claim:
On Jan. 6, 2020, a post on then-Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden's personal Twitter account read, "Let's be clear: Donald Trump does not have the authority to take us into war with Iran without Congressional approval. A president should never take this nation to war without the informed consent of the American people."

On Jan. 12, 2024, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican, shared a screenshot of a post that purportedly came from U.S. President Joe Biden's personal Twitter account.

That post read, "Let's be clear: Donald Trump does not have the authority to take us into war with Iran without Congressional approval. A president should never take this nation to war without the informed consent of the American people."

This was a genuine post that was shared on Biden's personal account on Jan. 6, 2020.

At the time, Biden was campaigning to become the Democratic nominee for the 2020 presidential election.

Biden's Strikes on Iranian-Backed Houthi Rebels

The context underlying Greene's sharing four-plus-year-old post in January 2024 was breaking news out of the Middle East. On Jan. 11, U.S. and U.K. forces launched retaliatory strikes on more than a dozen sites in Yemen against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who had previously been warned by the U.S. and 12 allies to cease their drone and missile attacks against commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

The Houthi attacks were the rebels' way of avenging Israel’s offensive in Gaza against Hamas, The Associated Press reported.

On Jan. 12, during a stop at a coffee shop in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, Biden was asked by a reporter, "Are we in a de facto proxy war with Iran?"

"No," Biden answered, moments later saying that "Iran does not want a war with us."

Gen. Soleimani's Death and Troop Deployments

As for why Biden posted in early January 2020 about then-U.S. President Donald Trump needing congressional approval to go to war with Iran, that matter concerned the aftermath of the death of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Soleimani was killed in a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport on Jan. 3, 2020. The strike was authorized by Trump. At the time, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN that the reason for the strike was concerns over an "imminent attack" that could potentially have led to American lives lost in the region.

On the same day that Biden posted his tweet, The New York Times reported that, in the aftermath of Soleimani's death, the Pentagon had directed about 4,500 additional troops to the Iraq and Syria on top of the roughly 50,000 who were already there. That escalation was likely what led to Biden's tweet.

In practice terms, the question of what military actions a president is allowed to take under the U.S. Constitution has remained a legal gray area, despite the passage of the War Powers Act in 1973. We explored that question in a previous article: Can US Presidents Launch Airstrikes Without Congressional Approval?

Sources

Barnes, Julian E., et al. “Pressed for Details on Suleimani Strike, Trump Administration Gives Few.” The New York Times, 8 Jan. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/07/us/politics/trump-soleimani.html.

Cooper, Helene, et al. “As Tensions With Iran Escalated, Trump Opted for Most Extreme Measure.” The New York Times, 4 Jan. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/04/us/politics/trump-suleimani.html.

Copp, Tara, and Lolita C. Baldor. “Who Are the Houthis? And Why Did the US and UK Retaliate for Their Attacks on Ships in the Red Sea?” The Associated Press, 12 Jan. 2024, https://apnews.com/article/yemen-attacks-iran-ships-retaliation-houthis-d770a3fb0fab4c4b72e2459771833e11.

Crowley, Michael, et al. “U.S. Strike in Iraq Kills Qassim Suleimani, Commander of Iranian Forces.” The New York Times, 3 Jan. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/02/world/middleeast/qassem-soleimani-iraq-iran-attack.html.

Gambrell, Jon, and Aamer Madhani. “US Warns Ships to Stay out of Parts of Red Sea as Houthi Rebels Vow Retaliation for US, UK Strikes.” The Associated Press, 12 Jan. 2024, https://apnews.com/article/yemen-houthis-us-ship-attacks-bombing-red-sea-iran-cc06d9186a00d1f22bea6b9c14dda12a.

Gibbons-Neff, Thomas. “How U.S. Troops Are Preparing for the Worst in the Middle East.” The New York Times, 6 Jan. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/06/world/middleeast/troops-iran-iraq.html.

Magramo, Kathleen, et al. “Israel-Hamas War Live Updates: Houthi Targets in Yemen Struck by US and UK.” CNN, 12 Jan. 2024, https://www.cnn.com/middleeast/live-news/israel-hamas-war-gaza-news-01-12-24/index.html.

Miller, Zeke, and Aamer Madhani. “US Warns Houthis to Cease Attacks on Red Sea Vessels or Face Potential Military Action.” The Associated Press, 3 Jan. 2024, https://apnews.com/article/us-israel-hamas-houthis-red-sea-fef8d446852b6eae33d38ffd8f6b2d64.

“Remarks by President Biden During Tour of Nowhere Coffee Co. | Emmaus, PA.” The White House, 12 Jan. 2024, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2024/01/12/remarks-by-president-biden-during-tour-of-nowhere-coffee-co-emmaus-pa/.

Stracqualursi, Veronica, and Jennifer Hansler. “Pompeo: Strike on Soleimani Disrupted an ‘imminent Attack’ and ‘Saved American Lives’ | CNN Politics.” CNN, 3 Jan. 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/03/politics/mike-pompeo-iran-soleimani-strike-cnntv/index.html.

Jordan Liles is a Senior Reporter who has been with Snopes since 2016.