Rising discontent among members of Congress over being bypassed on Syria has a distinctly bipartisan cast, ABC News reports. A group of eighty-one members of the House will send a letter to President Barack Obama this afternoon demanding that the commander-in-chief seek authorization from Capitol Hill before launching a military attack on a nation that presents no imminent threat to the security of the US. The group contains a dozen Democrats, and that number may rise:
A growing bipartisan coalition in Congress is coming together to “strongly urge” President Obama “to consult and receive authorization from Congress before ordering the use of U.S. military force in Syria.”
In a letter that will be sent to the president later today, Rep. Scott Rigell, a second-term Republican from Virginia, joins at least 81 of his Republican and Democratic colleagues in demanding that the president first acquire consent from Congress, citing the War Powers Resolution of 1973, before responding militarily to the Syrian government’s purported use of chemical weapons on Aug. 21.
“While the Founders wisely gave the Office of the President the authority to act in emergencies, they foresaw the need to ensure public debate — and the active engagement of Congress — prior to committing U.S. military assets,” the group, which so far includes 69 Republicans and 13 Democrats, writes. “Engaging our military in Syria when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution.”
Rigell has imposed a 3:00 p.m. deadline for lawmakers to sign on before the letter will be sent to the White House.
Why not go to Congress? There is at least as large a bipartisan group urging action, probably more than enough in both chambers to get easy passage of a limited pass. The authorization would give Obama more political cover on what is undeniably an unpopular action, and spread the blame to both parties. Chuck Todd suggested yesterday that the White House is afraid that “isolationists” will block the authorization, and that the delay in getting approval would be too great:
Delay? Well, it’s been months since the first time Syria used chemical weapons, which makes a rush to action here moot. Furthermore, the UN wants more time to determine what exactly happened anyway.
Todd also reports that the White House thinks they have ample room under the War Powers Act to use military force without Congressional authorization. As Andrew Kaczynski and John Ekdahl pointed out yesterday, though, that’s not just a dollop of hypocrisy but a massive serving of it:
Then-Senator Obama likewise agreed with the assessment from Biden saying the President of the United States could only authorize an attack in the instance of “imminent threat” to the nation, responding to a question to a 2008 Boston Globe questionnaire on executive authority.
The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.
As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.
As for the specific question about bombing suspected nuclear sites, I recently introduced S.J. Res. 23, which states in part that “any offensive military action taken by the United States against Iran must be explicitly authorized by Congress.” The recent NIE tells us that Iran in 2003 halted its effort to design a nuclear weapon. While this does not mean that Iran is no longer a threat to the United States or its allies, it does give us time to conduct aggressive and principled personal diplomacy aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Joe Biden had previously threatened impeachment against George W. Bush for a number of reasons, including the use of the War Powers Act to attack Iran over its nuclear-weapons program, which actually does represent a threat to the US. He even put the argument on his campaign website:
It is precisely because the consequences of war – intended or otherwise – can be so profound and complicated that our Founding Fathers vested in Congress, not the President, the power to initiate war, except to repel an imminent attack on the United States or its citizens. They reasoned that requiring the President to come to Congress first would slow things down… allow for more careful decision making before sending Americans to fight and die… and ensure broader public support.
The Founding Fathers were, as in most things, profoundly right. That’s why I want to be very clear: if the President takes us to war with Iran without Congressional approval, I will call for his impeachment.
I do not say this lightly or to be provocative. I am dead serious. I have chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee. I still teach constitutional law. I’ve consulted with some of our leading constitutional scholars. The Constitution is clear. And so am I.
I’m saying this now to put the administration on notice and hopefully to deter the President from taking unilateral action in the last year of his administration. If war is warranted with a nation of 70 million people, it warrants coming to Congress and the American people first.
How much more does this apply to Syria, which represents no direct or imminent threat to the United States? If Biden was “dead serious” then, this just shows how unserious this administration is now.