He’s not the only one, but Tom Campbell may have the highest level of moral authority to rebuke Congress on this point. Now a law professor, Campbell filed a lawsuit to block Bill Clinton from ordering air strikes in Serbia in the late 1990s without an explicit Congressional authorization for war. Now Campbell tells Yahoo News’ Olivier Knox that the current Congress risks setting a precedent that will all but eliminate the legislature’s ability to control when America goes to war:
“This is Congress running way from its responsibility,” the soft-spoken Campbell told Yahoo News in a telephone interview. “Is there anything left to the Constitution’s requirement that it’s the Congress’s role to declare war?”
The White House says it would welcome a vote authorizing Obama’s war on the Islamic State, but aides also say Obama has all the legal authority he needs and warn that the president would not accept restrictions from Congress on the kinds of operations he could order.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner says he’d call lawmakers back from the campaign trail to vote — if only Obama would formally draft a resolution authorizing the use of military force (in Washington-speak, an AUMF) and submit it to Congress. Leaders of key committees say they are looking to vote on authorization after the November election, or perhaps in 2015 when a new Congress convenes, a vague calendar that hardly guarantees action.
As one will recall, the White House seemed pretty anxious to get Congress to authorize arming and training the so-called moderate rebels in Syria. So far, though, they seem pretty sanguine about shrugging off both the Constitution and the War Powers Act. This isn’t new, of course; Obama never got Congressional authority for the war on Moammar Qaddafi, and only went to Congress for approval on attacking Assad after it became clear that the prospect was becoming a real political disaster, both at home and abroad. Even that was more of a dare, challenging Congress to shoulder the blame for not reacting to Obama’s red line. Not having been consulted on the red line in the first place, though, Congress appeared ready to call Obama’s bluff, which is when he backed down.
In fact, that’s one reason why Campbell says Obama should ask for a vote, and agree to abide by it:
“Assuming the president would get approval, and I think he would, if we go to war with Congress on board, it has two salutary effects,” Campbell said. “First, it prevents a lot of carping around the edges, where you have members of Congress criticizing the conduct of the war. It’s easy to criticize if you’ve been pushed to the margins. ‘You didn’t even ask me’ and so on.”
That was certainly the case with the first attempt to intervene militarily in Syria, compounded by Obama’s refusal to engage Congress on Libya. Ironically, of course, Obama is now attacking one of the main enemies of the regime he intended to attack in 2013. That’s hardly the only irony. As we’ve mentioned before, the debate has focused almost entirely on whether we need Congressional authorization for offensive military operations in Syria, because the 2002 AUMF for operations in Iraq remains in force. That’s the same AUMF that Obama wanted Congress to repeal, and the one which he claims authority to act without further Congressional authority — but only for Iraq.
Can one member of Congress force a vote, even if leadership of both parties balk at it? Yes, and Olivier Knox describes the details of how that could happen. Campbell himself managed to force two votes on the Serbia mission, but they ended up being historical footnotes. The same is likely to be the case here, thanks to Congress’ record of shrugging off its jurisdiction and authority, and a series of Presidents who were only too happy to take up the slack.